After a long night spent in his alchemy laboratory, The Phinisher has arrived at some certainly wrong-headed conclusions. In the endeavor to reveal what the 2008 Miami Dolphins will look like, Mr. Phinisher can’t be blamed for not trying.
And thus, here is his best attempt at who will make the 53-man roster on the Dolphins’ defense.
Following these predictions (made sans crystal ball) are the specialists. Those fellows are a lock to make the team, barring injury of course.
NT1 - Jason Ferguson
Ferguson is turning out to be the best pickup from free agency. The nose tackle in the 3-4 is, to put it lightly, everything. Sure, a playmaker at strong safety is important, and there is the need for a highly-specialized outside linebacker, but nothing works without a nose tackle that can hold his ground.
The NT sets the line of scrimmage for the entire defense. Ferguson was dealt to the Dolphins from Dallas for a sixth-round pick. He is a consummate “Parcells guy.”
NT2 - Paul Soliai
Soliai is one of the brighter parts of last year's regime. Ginn and Satele both have been solid picks, but Soliai was a late rounder that came in as more of a project. Last year, he struggled mightily as he filled in for the largely ineffectual (and very old) Keith Traylor.
This year, Soliai has played very well, even coming up with one goal-line ball strip on Maurice Jones-Drew. As Ferguson’s understudy, he has shown the vet a lot. Comically, Soliai wondered why they didn’t teach him the stuff he’s learning now last year? Well, Paul, because they couldn’t.
DE1 - Vonnie Holliday
Holliday is probably in his last year as a Dolphin. Injuries have hampered him during the preseason, and the impressive play of rookies Kendall Langford and Philip Merling have certainly made Holliday more expendable. Vonnie is still capable of a high level of play and is a much-needed mentor to the young bucks.
DE2 - Kendall Langford
I loved this pick (third round), as is documented in my almost man-crush tracking of the drafting and signing of Langford. A natural 3-4 end, Langford flew beneath many draft radars because of his small-school pedigree. The man can play though.
And he's more than just his physical presence; there's a “grown-up” understanding of his responsibilities on the field. Langford, I honestly believe, will be in this league for a long time. A brilliant third-round selection that is already starting.
DE3 - Philip Merling
I will be the first to admit that Merling was a guy that I wasn’t high on (I wanted middle linebacker Curtis Lofton as pick No. 33). Good thing Bill Parcells and GM Jeff Ireland know more about football than me.
While Merling has been average in practices, he has been extremely noticeable come game time. Now getting some work at outside linebacker, the DE will spell Vonnie Holliday, and I have a hunch that he will slowly begin to get more play time.
His goal-line stuff of Chiefs running back Larry Johnson was a very impressive play for a rookie to make. He seems to make those kind of plays a regular part of his game. Another great draft pick.
DE4 - Randy Starks
The everyman. Starks is officially filling in at both DE positions, but he also has the size and strength to step into the NT position, which he has done in limited play. The free agent from Tennessee has had a solid camp and has played well in scrimmages. He is a very solid backup that might start on other teams.
He has flown under the radar because of the storylines of the two rookies.
DE5 - Rodrique Wright
I wouldn’t have told you that Rod Wright would be making the team this year. The guy has looked great in the preseason, coming off the bench (against second stingers) and clearly provides very nice depth here. Rod seems to have a knack at getting pressure.
LB1 - Channing Crowder
Channing is possessed this year. Outspoken (crazy) as ever, it seems Crowder has dedicated himself to living up to the legacy of Zach Thomas. A tall order, but Crowder is a young guy who has been in the league a while now (came in a junior). He is making plays all over the field and with the much improved play up front he should be set for his best season to date. Triple digit tackles this year. I’ll say… 123.
LB2 - Joey Porter
The news of Joey’s demise has been much exaggerated. I feel somewhat irresponsible, running with what has since been identified as sensationalism by certain members of the South Florida media. Joey does have a back problem, but he will be the starting outside linebacker.
He openly admits that he will have to play with a lot of pain this year and probably have to take the first couple days of each week to rest. I still think he will be able to have a better year than last, especially playing in his birthright, as outside linebacker in a 3-4.
LB3 - Akin Ayodele
A draft-day trade brought Akin Ayodele and Anthony Fasano to the Dolphins for a fourth-round pick. Akin has been a solid linebacker in the league but never anything spectacular. He has very good size and speed, and with Crowder being the head bulldog, Ayodele should have plenty of opportunities to contribute without carrying too much.
LB4 - Matt Roth
Another instance of me being wrong...so far. When the Dolphins traded Jason Taylor, I felt they had made a big mistake. Outside of the nose tackle holding the line of scrimmage, the weak-side OLB’s pass-rush responsibilities are incredibly important.
A 3-4 needs a pass rush to take pressure of the secondary, more so than most 4-3 schemes. When they said that Matt Roth would be working as that OLB (now on the strong side), I nearly fainted (not really).
The idea was that putting a 280-pound DE on a tight end would be a mismatch. Roth has some wheels and quickness, but in the past, he had only one pass-rush move: the bull rush.
He has some more tools now and seems to be playing very well. He is has been a stud against the run, and in blitzing, he has been very solid (running backs less likely to successfully pick up the big guy on a blitz). We’ll see how this works as the year goes on.
LB5 - Reggie Torbor
Wearing his 2007 Super Bowl ring, Torbor is the everyman linebacker for the Dolphins. He has been playing, and playing decently, at almost every spot in the linebacker corps. He is a very solid role-player and can start if need be (see last year’s Super Bowl if you need a citation).
LB6 - Rob Ninkovich
Ninkovich is essentially Matt Roth-lite. Ninkovich is a defensive end that has been learning to play at the outside-linebacker position, and though not as productive as Roth, he has certainly not been lost.
The Dolphins need as much depth here as they can possibly get, and Ninkovich is a guy that can play either end or OLB, as well as special teams, and that should keep his foot in the door.
LB7 - Quentin Moses
The former Georgia Bulldog struck me as the best replacement for Jason Taylor. His not starting is less an issue of him not doing something that it is Matt Roth doing something more.
Moses has had somewhat of an odyssey since being drafted by the Raiders in the third round of the 2007 draft. He was cut before the season started, signed by the Cardinals, and then cut again. The Dolphins picked him up, and Moses played very well for them in limited action.
I think Moses stays because he is a fast DE that will probably transition into a decent 3-4 OLB. Look for him to get in on some plays this year and make a contribution to special teams.
LB8 - Charlie Anderson
Anderson was the first choice at OLB after Taylor was traded but injuries opened up opportunities for Matt Roth. Anderson won’t get Roth’s job, but he should stick and play for Porter when Porter’s back is too much for No. 55.
SS1 - Yeremiah Bell
A fan and personal favorite, the Kentucky steelworker/college walk-on is the only player left with the Dolphins from the 2003 NFL Draft. Any wonder why the team has been so bad? Bell emerged as a truly elite safety in 2006, and then, following a stellar camp, he tore his Achilles tendon in the first game of 2007.
Bell is back and ready to prove that he can run and hit with the best of them. A healthy Y-Bell improves this team’s defense by light years.
SS2 - Keith Davis
The ex-Cowboy special-teams ace is a hard-hitting safety that will backup Yeremiah Bell and bust heads on special teams. What he lacks in coverage skills, he makes up with reckless abandon. Elite special-teams players were a priority in free agency for Parcells & Co. We’ll see if it pays dividends.
FS1 - Jason Allen
Allen was demoted this week to second string, which came somewhat as a shock. Allen has played very well in the preseason and played particularly well against the Chiefs last week.
In that game, Head Coach Tony Sparano had him lineup as the starting free safety and then with the second team as a dimeback and cornerback. He played very well in all three positions. Sparano admitted that the competition wasn’t “over,” and that many feel the promotion of Crocker is meant to light a fire under Allen. Expect to see more Allen than Crocker by the end of the year.
FS2 - Chris Crocker
Crocker has recently been touted as a coverage specialist, and until this weeks promotion, he was thought to be a very solid dimeback. Crocker’s intelligence and synergy with the other members of the starting secondary may be what is getting him the nod. If he can’t hang physically, Sparano will have no problems putting Allen back in, which I suspect will be the case.
CB1 - Will Allen
The Dolphins may have their shutdown cornerback. Allen had a career year last season and looks to build on it. Great in coverage, Allen also has a knack for successful corner blitzes.
CB2 - Andre Goodman
Must be eating his Wheaties. Goodman has had a solid camp and preseason, and he looks better than he ever has. Not quite on Allen’s level, Goodman is more than just serviceable.
CB3 - Michael Lehan
Here is another guy who is flourishing in the new “player-friendly” defense. Lehan has fought a nagging ankle injury in camp but has hung on with the team due to how great he looked in the earlier “Official Team Activities.” Lehan came back last week to play against the Chiefs and got a nice interception, which he returned for decent yardage.
CB4 - Nathan Jones
No, not the ex-felon, bank-robbing-wrestler-power-lifter-actor. Nor does CB4 hearken to the brilliant Chris Rock film. Rather, all this refers to the ex-Cowboys cornerback. Jones hasn’t done enough to garner being cut or get significant playtime. With the backdrop of last year’s injury woes in the secondary, the Dolphins will hopefully carry a few guys here. If nothing else, corners make good special-teams players.
CB5- Joey Thomas
Joey Thomas has shown a little more than Nathan Jones—he had a nice interception last week—and if one is to make it, then Thomas will be he.
K - Dan Carpenter
The rookie sensation. The NFL’s official website had Brandon Fields listed as the Dolphin to watch. The other AFC East teams had position players and the like. If the NFL was going to pick a specialist from the Dolphins, why not pick the Montana rookie who has been perfect in the preseason, hitting from 50-yards in.
How much money did the Dolphins save by converting high-priced Jay Feely into an undrafted free agent with a leg of gold. Bad weather up in New York? The man kicked in Montana.
P - Brandon Fields
Fields, according to the NFL, is the player on the Dolphins to keep an eye on. Fields is a punter. A good punter, but a punter nonetheless. One of the interesting things the NFL points out is that he also holds for field goals. Really? That’s the most interesting thing I’ve ever heard.
LS - John Denney
John lost a step this year, shaving his mustache. Remember to get a nice, even level on those snaps. Surprised the NFL didn't list him as a fantasy sleeper.
Again, this is even more a stretch to predict, but that won’t stop me.
NT - Anthony Toribio
Undrafted and local free-agent Anthony Toribio has the size and strength to make it in the NFL, but he lacks in experience. He impressed at OTA’s and has disappeared since. They’ll stash him on the practice squad for a year in case of a injury to one of the other NTs.
LB - Titus Brown
Another undrafted free agent, Brown has drawn praise from Sparano, and if he can show versatility, he might have a shot at making the team. If not, look to them to try and retain Brown on the practice squad. Plus he has a very cool name.
DE - Lionel Dotson
This seventh-round draft pick has done very little. In fact, he is barely noticeable. I’m not even sure he’s still on the team. He’s listed but not doing very much. He has the measurables, and Parcells saw enough to draft him, so if he’s still around, he might get a spot on the practice squad.
Check out part I of this inane prediction series.
53 Man Roster Part I - The Offense
And as always, you can find more Miami Dolphins news @ www.thephinisher.com.