Dion Jordan is a jack of all trades.
But by sticking the former Oregon linebacker at defensive end, the Miami Dolphins are hoping to make him a master of one: rushing the passer.
Make no mistake, Jordan's frame (6'6", 275 lbs, 33.88" arms) makes him a potential force as a pass-rusher. He should be given opportunities to get after the quarterback regardless of whether he lines up as a stand-up linebacker (two-point stance) or on the line with his hand in the dirt (three-point stance).
There are ways the Dolphins can do that without wasting Jordan's talents by having him ride the bench or wasting his versatility by limiting what he does on the field.
|Miami Dolphins defensive end depth chart|
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Last year, it became mind-boggling that the Dolphins weren't playing Dion Jordan more often.
The Dolphins have plenty of depth at defensive end, where Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon are the clear-cut starters. Both men possess top-notch first-step quickness, sound hand technique and a variety of pass-rush moves to get upfield against offensive tackles and tight ends. The two combined for 20 sacks last season and 38.5 sacks over the past two seasons.
Behind them, third-year veteran Derrick Shelby and 2014 seventh-round pick Terrence Fede would both fill out the depth chart nicely.
At linebacker, however, the situation is a bit more dire. Last year's free-agent signees, Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler, have not worked out quite as planned. The Dolphins could pull a Robin Hood on their own roster: steal from somewhere they are rich and give to somewhere they are poor.
Moving Jordan to linebacker would not only appease Dolphins fans who started a petition to move him, but it would also play more into the strengths and projection outlined in his NFL.com predraft scouting report:
Jordan offers a unique blend of comfort in space, length, and pass rush ability. His box scores may not appeal to everyone, but Jordan was frequently asked to cover receivers or tight ends after lining up in the slot opposite them. His future appears to be at strongside linebacker in a four man front, with the ability to rush the passer, or as an outside linebacker in a three-man front.
Jordan's talents could still be required at defensive end every now and then; Shelby wasn't quite the pass-rusher Jordan was last season. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Jordan got pressure on one in every 8.6 attempts rushing the passer, while Shelby came in at one pressure in every 14.6 attempts. That being said, Shelby would make a good rotational defensive end, especially against the run, where he notched 16 stops.
The Dolphins clearly still think Shelby can rush the passer, and they had him do so from the defensive tackle spot in the team's second preseason game, against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In fact, with Jordan (circled in black) rushing from the end spot, we can see his inability to shed the offensive tackle after the two are engaged.
Shelby (circled in red), on the other hand, split the two interior linemen and got straight into the backfield, decking Buccaneers quarterback Mike Glennon in the process. There was defensive holding downfield that negated this play, but the events in the trenches remain unchanged: Shelby handily beat his assignment, Jordan did not.
If Jordan can get after the quarterback, his talents could still be vital at defensive end. He was successful at it last year, but only in a very limited role. That being said, he will have to expand his pass-rushing repertoire and improve his ability to shed blocks if he wants to continue to improve in that area.
"One of the things we've wanted him to practice on a continual basis is pass rush and get off and operating from, sometimes the three-point or sometimes the two-point, but rushing the passer," head coach Joe Philbin said.
His role with the Dolphins is much different from what he was doing at Oregon leading up to his selection as the third overall pick in the 2013 draft. Jordan will be the first to admit that he has had to go through quite a bit since entering the league, including recovering from a shoulder injury that nagged him all last season and a learning curve at his new full-time position.
According to the Sun-Sentinel, he said:
The first thing is I'm a lot more healthy so I trust myself now more than I did last year. And then I'm understanding my position a lot better. In college I was playing a totally different position than when I got here, so now I understand blocking schemes, what going to happen pre-snap, and I'm able to react and just play ball.
These are areas he should continue to hone, and of course the Dolphins should try to find ways to get their big-bodied defender into the backfield, but he should earn some time at linebacker for his ability to move in the open field.
Let's not put him among the league's best coverage linebackers just yet, but let's not forget his coverage on this deep route by Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski. He had some help from the deep safety, but Jordan (circled in black) still followed the All-Pro tight end (circled in red) all the way downfield, with sticky coverage to help prevent Brady's pass from being completed.
Jordan has experience in coverage from his days at Oregon. He covered tight ends and even slot receivers at times.
Despite his experience in those roles, there is still some room for improvement.
Jordan (circled in black) made good initial contact before Buccaneers tight end Brandon Myers (circled in red) got into his route, but Myers was able to shake free of Jordan's coverage on an out route. Jordan lost Myers on the break, allowed the reception and then had to chase Myers down for the tackle from behind.
Being in position to make the tackle, and actually making the tackle, would be improvements over the struggles of Wheeler. Whether the Dolphins give Jordan a chance to fill that role remains to be seen.
We won't get a feel for how the Dolphins envision Jordan being used until at least Week 5; Jordan is suspended for the first four games of the season for violating the NFL's policy on performance enhancing substances.
Ultimately, though, Jordan could be at his best in a role similar to that of Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller. He is an excellent pass-rusher, and his role is focused primarily on attacking the line of scrimmage, but the Broncos give him opportunities to use his range of skills.
Unless otherwise noted, quotes were obtained via team news release.