Part two of a seven-part series previewing the Miami Dolphins. The articles will focus on dissecting the team’s most crucial positions before the start of training camp.
Part Two: The Defensive Line
This year the Dolphins will be playing with a very deep rotation of defensive linemen. Defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni and defensive-line coach Kacy Rodgers will try to keep opposing offenses guessing by using different combinations on the line.
The starters will get the most snaps but the reserves will be just as important. In Bill Parcells’ version of the 3-4 defense the line spends most of its time protecting against the run. They are expected to occupy blockers and let the linebackers fly to the ball. This year Miami needs more production in passing situations to help out a young secondary.
The Nose Guards:
This group is lead by the second oldest member on the roster. Jason Ferguson was brought into the league by Parcells back in 1997 and has become the prototype for the 3-4 nose guard. He has the size and strength needed and every bit of his effort on the field is done for the greater good of the defense.
He routinely eats up blockers and is stout against the run. At his age it is imperative that the Dolphins keep him fresh because he is so important to the run defense. There is some potential in free-agent rookie Louis Ellis and there is a lot of wasted potential in third-year nose guard Paul Soliai.
Soliai is the most obvious choice to back up Ferguson but his poor attitude has kept him in the dog house. He was suspended twice by the team in 2008 and so far has wasted his opportunity in the NFL. This training camp needs to be a complete 180 if he wants to stay with this team, and if not then expect Parcells to show him the door.
Ellis is an intriguing prospect. He was a junior-college transfer at Division I FCS Shaw University, where he dominated. He might have played against weaker competition in college but he did enough to catch the attention of this organization. The team is thin at this position and Ferguson can’t take every snap.
Joe Cohen is the long shot to make this roster. He was picked up off waivers from San Francisco and has never played in a NFL game. His rookie year was wiped out by an ACL injury and he was inactive for all 16 games in 2008. He and Ellis will battle for the third tackle spot and the loser will probably end up on the practice squad.
The Dolphins did not draft a defensive tackle this year and could have their eyes set on potential 2010 free agent Vince Wilfork, but the Patriots will most likely place the dreaded franchise tag on him. As more teams switch to the 3-4 defense it will be harder to get players like Ferguson and Wilfork in the draft.
The Defensive Ends:
This unit will be very young, very deep and very versatile. The rotation could be five or six players deep because guys like Randy Starks and Tony McDaniel can move inside and play defensive tackle in passing situations.
Kendall Langford started 14 games as a rookie last year and finished with 31 tackles and two sacks. He should retain his position as starter but he may lose his place on passing downs. In this defensive scheme the coaches will try to take advantage of each players’ best attributes so nothing is certain until the season starts.
McDaniel was acquired from Jacksonville for a seventh-round draft choice. He bares a strong resemblance to Starks because he played in a 4-3 defensive scheme as a defensive tackle. Here in Miami he will fit in well as a defensive end and he can still take some snaps at defensive tackle to help rest Ferguson.
Starks played in all 16 games last year with four starts and finished with 29 tackles, three sacks and an interception. This offseason he was arrested in South Beach during the Memorial Day weekend for allegedly striking an officer with his car which may or may not have been over loaded with passengers.
The charges seem to be over exaggerated but trouble with the law means trouble with The Tuna. Starks will be an important part of the rotation and has a chance to take Vonnie Holliday’s old spot if he stays out of trouble.
Phillip Merling was the second draft choice of the Parcells era and big things are expected of him this year. Last year he was strong against the run and showed some pass rushing ability. He spent the offseason training at his alma mater to improve his stamina which he said hurt him towards the end of last year.
Lionel Dotson was the third defensive end drafted by Miami last year but he wasn’t much of a factor. If he wants to get on the field he will have to fend off third-year man Rodrique Wright and rookie free agent Ryan Baker.
Wright is a hold over from the Saben era and looks to be on his way out of Miami as he has failed to impress this coaching staff. Baker could make an impact, he has the ability and a good preseason could earn him a roster spot. He showed good strength at the NFL combine and was offered contracts by several teams after the draft.
Just like the offensive line, the success of the defensive line starts in the middle. Jason Ferguson is the most important player on this defense and without him it is hard to believe that the Dolphins will compete in the AFC East.
This series will continue every Monday and Friday in July only on The Bleacher Report. Look for Part Three: The Running Backs on Monday July 13th.