Dissecting Miami Dolphins' Best, Worst Positional Units

Thomas Galicia@thomasgaliciaContributor IIJuly 13, 2015

Miami Dolphins defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, left, works on a drill with Ja'Wuan James (70) during an NFL football organized team activity, Monday, June 8, 2015, in Davie, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

Football games are won in the trenches, and the Miami Dolphins' biggest strengths and biggest weaknesses lie in the trenches.

The best positional unit for the Dolphins is the defensive line, while the worst is the offensive line. 

We're going to dissect both of those units today, as they are not only the most important positional units on the Dolphins but will also be the sites of some great training-camp battles.

 

Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

Best Positional Unit: Defensive Line

Last year's defensive line started off well, but as the year progressed, the line regressed to the point where stopping the run was a major challenge by the end of the seasonand the pass rush was nonexistent.

You can't blame that slip in performance on injury, like how you can pin the secondary's problems on the loss of Louis Delmas (knee). Rather, it was just bad play toward the end of the season. 

Instead, it was due to some weakness in the interior, as you can see from this table:

2014 Miami Dolphins Defensive Line PFF Grades: 200 or More Snaps
PlayerPass-Rush GradeRun-Stop GradePass-Coverage GradeOverall Grade
Olivier Vernon8.03.9-5.56.5
Cameron Wake36.3-1.9-2.032.2
Jared Odrick7.31.01.09.0
Randy Starks4.9-9.52-1.1
Earl Mitchell3.6-3.80.00.4
Derrick Shelby-7.06.72.0-2.2
Dion Jordan-2.6-2.62.0-2.2
Totals50.5-6.2-5.042.5
Pro Football Focus

While the two defensive ends performed well, the interior defensive line (save for Jared Odrick) faded away, especially in regard to run defense. 

Because of that slip in play, out goes Randy Starks, and in come Ndamukong Suh and C.J. Mosley from the Detroit Lions.

Adding their 2014 Pro Football Focus grades to Miami's defense shows a massive increase in the team's overall run-stopping grade. That is to be expected, considering that the Lions had the top run defense in the NFL in 2014, allowing only 68.4 yards per game:

2014 Grades For Miami's New-Look Defensive Line
PlayerPass-Rush GradeRun-Stop GradePass-Coverage GradeOverall Grade
Olivier Vernon8.03.9-5.56.5
Cameron Wake36.3-1.9-2.032.2
Earl Mitchell3.6-3.80.00.4
Derrick Shelby-7.06.7-2.5-2.3
Ndamukong Suh15.317.61.527.5
C.J. Mosley1.11.20.03.9
Totals57.323.7-8.568.2
Pro Football Focus

Miami finished 24th, allowing 121.1 yards per game.

This won't just bolster the run defense, as Suh and Mosley will improve the pass defense as well.

Suh against the Cowboys offensive line
Suh against the Cowboys offensive lineNFL Game Rewind/Photoshop by Thomas Galicia

NFL Game Rewind/Photoshop by Thomas Galicia

Despite the double-team, still a sack
Despite the double-team, still a sackNFL Game Rewind

It won't just be with plays like this sequence against the Dallas Cowboys, but Suh will also gobble up double-teams, opening up the edges for the defensive ends and linebackers to swarm in.

Here's a look at how Detroit's defensive ends performed, thanks in part to Suh and Mosley, with Detroit's Pro Football Focus grades:

2014 Detroit Lions Defensive Line PFF Grades: 200 or More Snaps
PlayerPass-Rush GradeRun-Stop GradePass-Coverage GradeOverall Grade
Ndamukong Suh15.317.61.527.5
C.J. Mosley1.11.20.01.9
Ezekiel Ansah8.510.1-0.517.6
Jason D. Jones-8.02.9-0.5-10.4
George Johnson6.2-5.9-0.5-10.4
Nick Fairley8.15.70.09.8
Darryl Tapp-1.0-2.50.5-2.8
Devin Taylor-5.8-0.4-2-8.2
Totals24.428.7-1.536.8
Pro Football Focus

The player to see here is Ezekiel Ansah, a top-five pick in the 2013 draft who was fairly raw but became a menace for opposing teams.

Suh had a lot to do with that, as he mentored Ansah during his rookie year, with Ansah saying this about Suh's leadership at the time, per Justin Rogers of MLive.com: 

Yeah, definitely, he's a really great guy. He leads me on the field, tells me what I do right. Off the field, he said if I need anything, I should just hit him up and he's going to help me out. He's been a big brother to me.

When I do something wrong, he's like, 'You've got to do it this way.' He's just helped me overall.

The player comparison here is second-round pick Jordan Phillips, who has more polish now than Ansah did in his rookie season. Unlike Ansah, Phillips is an interior lineman, but with Suh's leadership, he should develop well in 2015, ultimately improving Miami's defensive line even more.

Overall, the defensive line is Miami's best positional unit, thanks to talent in the interior and on the outside. 

Throughout training camp, it will battle the worst positional unit.

 

DAVIE, FL - MAY 23: Ja'Wuan James #72 and Billy Turner #77 of the Miami Dolphins participate in drills during the rookie minicamp on May 23, 2014 at the Miami Dolphins training facility in Davie, Florida. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

Worst Positional Unit: Offensive Line

Is it 2013 all over again? Not quite. Miami's offensive line has improved over the last two seasons.

Unfortunately, that improvement has been from embarrassing and vomit-inducing to just plain bad, as you will see in this table comparing (and adding up) grades from 2013 and 2014:

Miami Dolphins Offensive Line PFF Grades 2013-14
YearSacks AllowedPass-Protection GradeRun-Blocking Grade
201358-8.3-46.3
201446-68.8-39.0
Totals104-77.1-85.3
Pro Football Focus

The tackles have been the reason for the improvement. Going from the 2013 tackle combination of Jonathan Martin and Tyson Clabo (and then Bryant McKinnie and Tyson Clabo) to Branden Albert and Ja'Wuan James was one of the most necessary and welcome upgrades in Miami Dolphins history.

It's a shame that the pairing wasn't meant to be for a full season, as Albert suffered a torn ACL in Week 10.

Jeff Haynes/Associated Press

If the pairing stays together for a full season, the Dolphins will be in good shape on the edges, as both players performed well at left and right tackle, respectively.

If not, it could be trouble, as James seemed overwhelmed at times at left tackle. 

As for center, Mike Pouncey is back at the position, which is good news, considering his stint at guard was less than memorable.

Then come the guardsthe weakest position of the weakest positional unit.

Can the Dolphins count on Dallas Thomas to improve in 2015? His 2014 season, when he played guard and tackle, suggests no, but the coaches are giving Thomas every opportunity to earn the starting job at left guard, per Andrew Abramson of the Palm Beach Post, where he is competing with rookie Jamil Douglas.

Douglas has a great shot at unseating Thomas, while on the right side, Billy Turner seems to have the job locked up, with Abramson reporting that the coaching staff is "high" on the second-year lineman.

Competing with the best positional unit on the team every day in practice should strengthen the offensive line to some degree, though, which is a good reason to come out and see the Dolphins in training camp later this month.

 

Advance stats provided by Pro Football Focus unless otherwise noted. 

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