Two things are always paramount when your talking about the defensive line for the Miami Dolphins: your numbers against the run and how may times you can either sack or pressure the opposing quarterback. The run defense in 2011 was stellar, holding opponents to 95.6 yards per game, which ranked third in the NFL. The Dolphins were also third in the league holding teams to 3.71 yards per carry! The longest play on the ground from the line of scrimmage in 2011 was for 24 yards, which tied for the league lead in 2011!
Getting to the quarterback might be a little bit more difficult this season without the presence of future Hall of Fame candidate Jason Taylor. His retirement leaves a void that will need to be replaced in 2012. Cameron Wake’s 28 sacks over the last three seasons are spectacular, but it can’t be a one-man show in 2012! Here’s a breakdown leading into training camp of the players that will be counted on if the Dolphins are going to be dominate the line of scrimmage.
-Paul Soliai: The big man in the middle is back and his biggest adjustment will be moving from the nose tackle position. New defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle will be implementing a 4-3 defense, and that means playing more gap control and occupying more blockers and space at the point of attack! Soliai proved that he can move and play multiple snaps last season, and I have little doubt that his production will stay at a Pro Bowl level in 2012!
-Randy Starks: The biggest asset that Starks possesses is his versatility. He has the ability to play the three technique and bounce outside and rush the passer if needed. Inside, Randy accounted for 34 tackles, which tied for second on the team in 2011. His ability to deflect passes at the line of scrimmage and gather interceptions (two last season) almost made me name a private island after him! Getting to the quarterback isn’t an issue (4.5 sacks in 2011) and the 4-3 should suit him just fine moving forward.
-Tony McDaniel: He’s a huge man at 6’7 305 pounds and really played a big role in his limited reps last season. Tony finished last season with 19 total tackles, two and a half sacks and five quarterback pressures. McDaniel will be a space eater and be counted on to stop the run in 2012.
-Kheeston Randall: The Dolphins selected Randall in the seventh round in last April’s NFL Draft out of The University of Texas. He was a four-year letterman and a three year starter for the Longhorns and was selected first-team All-Big XII. It will be an uphill battle for Randall to make the final 53-man roster and his play in the pre-season will determine his place on the roster moving forward.
-Chas Alecxih: I’m privately (now publicly) rooting for one of my own, a fellow Pitt Panther, to make this team the hard way! It won’t be an easy road for Alecxih from a competition standpoint but he possesses the ability to take on blockers with strength and athleticism. Taking positive practice work and applying it to pre-season game will be key for Chas to make this team or any other NFL squad.
-Isaako Aaitui: Size is not the issue when it comes to the 6’3, 325 pound Aaitui, but opportunities just might be! Players like Aaitui and Alecxih need repetitions and on a defensive front like Miami’s, they will be hard to come by. They know that every play matters and that’s exactly the mindset Isaako must have from practice number one!
-Cam Wake: This is a player who leads by example and he had a great teacher in retired Dolphin Jason Taylor. What I like most about Wake is his attacking style of play. Cameron’s ability to contort his body and never give opposing offensive lineman the same target twice. He’s able to dip and lower his pad level to glide past the hand placement and grasp of would be blockers. Wake finished 2011 with 42 total tackles and led the Dolphins with eight and a half sacks (that tied for 12th in the AFC). Cam is an elite player with a motor that never stops and it will be paramount that he continues to elevate his game week in and week out!
-Jarod Odrick: Some Dolphins fans weren’t convinced that Odrick had the ability to make his play match his draft status after only playing one game (at Buffalo) his rookie season. Well six sacks and five tackles for loss in 2012 helped Odrick erase some of those doubts and more pressure on opposing quarterbacks in 2012 (eight quarterback hits last season) will take some of the heat away from Cameron Wake! New defensive scheme will give Jarod the flexibility to possibly move inside (to defensive tackle) and then rush the passer from his normal spot at defensive end. He must prove to head coach Joe Philbin and Kevin Coyle that he has the strength to consistently set the edge against the run, and build upon his knack to get in the offensive backfield.
-Ryan Baker: Ryan was resigned by Miami late last season and brings toughness and depth to the position. He can move down and play inside in the 4-3 defense and is someone that shouldn’t be overlooked along the defensive front.
-Olivier Vernon: Drafted in the third round out of The U, Vernon brings athleticism and speed to the position. A three-year letterman that was limited to six games in 2011 must be thrilled to get this opportunity to play professional football in his hometown of Miami. Although there is excitement about Olivier, there are also big question marks on what impact he will have in 2012! His motor and ability to move should be an asset to the Dolphins, but there will be some pressure to deliver quickly on a team that needs to bring pressure opposite Wake.
-Jarrell Root: The undrafted free agent provides depth and experience coming out of Boise State where he appeared in all 13 games for the Broncos in 2011 (also 12 games in 2010 and 14 games in 2009). He has the ability to move for a big body and it seems like speed will be an asset for Root.
-Jaquies Smith: The Dolphins are looking for players that bring a great first step when rushing the passer and Smith definitely provides it. At 6’4 255, Smith has a long frame that will transition well at the next level coming out of Missouri.
-Derrick Shelby: Derrick has the credentials coming of Utah being named first-team All Pac-12 in 2011, and has started 40 of the 47 career games as a collegiate player. Has experience playing defensive tackle in college as well at 6’3 271 pounds, but is probably more of a natural defensive end.
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