The Miami Dolphins enter the offseason with a lot of needs to fill.
One of the areas the Dolphins aren't expected to tinker with too much is the defensive line. Miami's front four, consisting of ends Cameron Wake and Jared Odrick and interior linemen Paul Soliai and Randy Starks, was one of the strongest defensive lines in all of football.
Miami finished the season with the 13th best rush defense, allowing 108.4 yards per game. The Dolphins racked up 42 sacks, good for seventh in the league. With a woeful secondary and linebackers that weren't always consistent, Miami's front four was the strong point of its defense in 2012.
And yet, it could have a new look heading into 2013.
Miami is looking to shake things up this offseason, and the defensive line could be a part of that. First, there's the issue of free agent Randy Starks. Starks is a monster in the trenches, using his 305 pounds to plug gaps and squash running lanes.
The Dolphins would be wise to re-sign Starks, but as with the rest of their free agents, discussions have yet to begin (at least as far as we can tell). Personally, I believe Miami will bring back Starks, but let's assume for a moment they do not.
Where does that leave Miami?
The linemen directly behind Starks (Tony McDaniel, rookie Kheeston Randall) aren't exactly starter quality. However, Jared Odrick could probably be moved inside. At 6'5" and 302 pounds, Odrick has the size to be an effective interior threat.
Odrick has finally begun to emerge as a valid lineman this season. But defensive end isn't his strong suit. Odrick was initially drafted to be a 3-4 defensive tackle. The switch to a 4-3 defense could affect his ability inside, but Odrick has performed well enough on the edge to inspire confidence in his abilities.
With Odrick moving to the inside, the possibilities for Miami to improve its pass rush are wide open. Odrick may have performed well at DE, but he is not an effective pass-rusher. He has only five sacks compared to Cameron Wake's 15.
That problem isn't exclusive to Odrick, though. Wake's 15 sacks accounted for roughly 36 percent of Miami's sack total (42). In fact, Odrick's five sacks put him second on the team behind Wake.
This must be remedied.
Thankfully, the draft looks to be choked with fiery pass-rushers.
Guys like Florida State's Bjoern Werner and Texas A&M's Damontre Moore are both projected as top-ten picks by Walter Football, so there's a good chance they won't be around when Miami picks at No. 12.
But the Dolphins would still have a shot at playmakers like Oregon's Dion Jordan, who at 6'7" and 243 pounds resembles Jason Taylor and has many of the former All-Pro's skills. If not Jordan, Miami could be enticed by LSU's pair of defensive ends, Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo.
With the 12th pick, Miami will be well-placed to pick the best available at a position of need. It should be noted that while the bulk of this article has been speculation, Miami should still pull the trigger on one of these ends if there is no one better available.
Even if Starks returns and Odrick does not move inside, the Dolphins would benefit hugely from drafting a fierce pass-rushing end. Miami shouldn't take an end over a talented offensive guard or, say, Dee Milliner, but any one of these defensive ends could come in and immediately produce.
As stated earlier, the Dolphins aren't necessarily expected to mess with their defensive line. But crazier things have happened before. The biggest indicator of this change will be how the Dolphins handle Randy Starks.
If Starks is signed to a new deal or receives an extension, Miami's dominant line should return intact.
If Starks is released, look for a new front four in South Florida next season.