What Will Miami Dolphins' Starting Linebacker Corps Look Like in 2015?

Erik Frenz@ErikFrenzSenior Writer IAugust 4, 2015

Koa Misi (55, left) and Jelani Jenkins (53, right) could retain their starting roles in 2015.
Koa Misi (55, left) and Jelani Jenkins (53, right) could retain their starting roles in 2015.Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

The Miami Dolphins' answer to their issues at linebacker was to not search around the NFL for an answer. Instead, they looked within their own locker room and found a few options. 

Now, the only thing that remains is to wait and see how it will all shake out.

Through the first few practices of training camp, the Dolphins have been rotating pieces at the linebacker positions. The Dolphins have been using a variety of combinations in an effort to find the combination that will work best. Depending on what day you visit Dolphins training camp, you may see a different starting lineup at linebacker than someone else sees.

Jelani Jenkins is the only constant in the starting lineup. The other two spots have seen a couple of pairings: Koa Misi at middle linebacker and Chris McCain at strong-side linebacker or Kelvin Sheppard at middle linebacker with Misi kicking over to the strong-side position.

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According to John Congemi of TheFinsiders.com, Misi was the starting middle linebacker on Thursday, while Sheppard was in the backup unit flanked by Spencer Paysinger and Jordan Tripp. According to ESPN.com's James Walker, Sheppard was "almost exclusively" in the starting group as the middle linebacker on Friday. 

It's all part of an effort by the Dolphins' coaching staff to find the best combination of linebackers that works together, as opposed to simply finding the three best linebackers and plugging them in as square pegs in round holes.

Miami Dolphins' LB depth chart, 2014
PlayerPosGamesSnaps
Jelani JenkinsWLB15912
Koa MisiMLB11580
Jason TrusnikSLB/MLB16397
Philip WheelerSLB15384
Kelvin SheppardMLB14121
Jonathan FreenySLB/WLB1242
Dannell EllerbeWLB118
Jordan TrippALL312
Source: ProFootballFocus.com (highlight = no longer w/team)

"We're looking to find the exact right combination," Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin said. "Who works best with one another? Who communicates best with one another? Who has the most production when they're out there?"

The combination aspect of the Dolphins' decision process at linebacker clouds the competition aspect, but if there's a one-on-one battle for a starting spot in that group, it's between Sheppard and McCain. 

If it's Sheppard, the question is whether Misi can transition back to the strong-side linebacker position. 

"It's going to take a couple reps to get used to playing [strong-side linebacker] again, but I told them wherever they need me to play I will play," Misi said, according to Walker. "SAM is not that difficult of a position to play. I still know a lot of what I was doing when I was playing SAM. So the carryover is pretty much the same."

Misi has played his best football at outside linebacker, but he fared well in the middle in 2014 and could build off what he learned last year if given another chance there. That would allow the Dolphins to begin maximizing McCain's potential as an outside linebacker.

Although McCain has been spotted playing defensive end at practices, it appears the team is willing to give him the chance to make the full-time switch. 

"I'm pretty cool at defensive end. I rush and do what I have to do," McCain said, according to Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald. "The workload right now is just at linebacker, which is very simplified. I feel real comfortable dropping back [into coverage]. It's a lot of fun."

McCain, like Misi, entered the NFL as a defensive end. He has the athleticism and the right skill set to play the strong-side linebacker position; his aggressiveness at the line of scrimmage, his pass-rushing ability and his knack for making plays in the backfield make him a perfect fit, particularly in defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle's attacking, blitz-heavy scheme. 

The three best linebackers are clearly Misi, Jenkins and McCain, but Sheppard can still be a solid backup option and can fill in if McCain or Misi ever needs to come off the field.

That's the luxury of this group: The depth creates some versatility among the groupings the Dolphins field. Running situations may call for certain alignments (likely involving Sheppard), and passing situations might warrant an athletic two-man pairing (Jenkins and McCain come to mind). 

As a result of the Dolphins' flexibility at the position, there's no real rush to pick a starting group that they send onto the field for 100 percent of the snaps. The greater mission is to get all the players to a stage where they are comfortable enough with their teammates that they can all still play no matter who's lining up next to them. 

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained via team news release.