Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The First Line of Defense

In our continuing mission of getting to know all of our training camp competitors, we've come to a point where I'm about to waste a moment of time and energy. What do I mean by that? The Defensive Line currently boasts ELEVEN players, with the additional make-up opportunities provided by converted linebackers, Jason Taylor, Matt Roth, Quentin Moses, Tearrius George, Cam Wake, etc, etc.

At some point in the next four weeks, the Dolphins need to release two players from the roster to cut down to the maximum 80 allowed. The safe bet is that at least one if not both of these cuts will come from the overloaded defensive line. The only other position with excess players is at tight-end, with 6. So at least one of the players below may not be joining the team for the opening of training camp.

Kendall Langford, # 70.
Langford had a brilliant off-season last year. He came out of relative obscurity to win the starting LDE position and it was set in stone very early on (before TC even began if memory serves). He also started 2008 with a bang, crushing aging Primitive Weapon into the Marlins infield for the first Dolphins sack of the year. In fact, he applied constant pressure on Favre, including knocking him down on the 'Hail Mary' play that I still can't scrub out of my eyes. Langford showed glimpses of what he can do in 2008, but needs to be more consistent and better conditioned this year to elevate his play. That said, I see him being in the mix for years to come in Miami.

Philip Merling, # 97.
Funny story about Merling. On Madden he looks like JT, very slim, and is completely unstoppable in the pass rush. But in reality he is quite large and in 2008 his prowess was skewed more towards the run-stopping game. In relief of Vonnie Holliday he showed a lot of strength , and actually looked a bit like Holliday himself. Merling may turn out to be more of a play-maker in the end, though, and he needs the reps to make it happen. As much as I loved Holliday, Jeff Ireland was right, the only way for Merling to come into his own is to be the guy getting most of the snaps. He needs experience. He certainly has the physicality, he just needs to learn the mental aspects. We watched him grow as a person (quite literally) in 2008, now it's time for him to grow as a player.

Jason Ferguson, # 95.
Well this sure ain't the 'Fergie' I grew up with but I must saw I'm more impressed with the football player than the Duchess. A lot of fans and the media were down on Ferguson for only having 22 tackles last year, but what's a good year for a nose tackle...27 tackles? Honestly, it would be great if he made 40 tackles and forced 12 fumbles but considering he only played in about 50% of the snaps, I think he was respectable, if not great in 2008. He had to share the load with Starks, Soliai, Wright and Dotson and missed a game as well. The Dolphins obviously wanted to attempt to add some leg-life to Ferguson in hopes he would be here more than a year or two. He will still start in 2009, but expect more of the same rotation in the middle from Pasqualoni and Sparano.

Randy Starks, #94.
Well, besides allegedly running over police officers in South Beach, Starks has made a name for himself on the football field since coming to the Dolphins. If they gave out 12th man awards anymore, Starks would be a definite contender at least on the defensive side of the ball. In 2008 he usually created havoc; whereas Ferguson would consistently tie up the opponent's O-line, Starks would consistently separate from them, creating QB pressure, and turnovers. He even got an interception on the opening drive of the Houston game (remember? before we completely collapsed on defense?). I see Starks doing much the same as he did in 2008, garnering a sizable snap count by playing all 3 positions on the DL in relief of the three guys above. Obviously if any of them were to go down, he would be the first name called off the bench.

Paul Soliai, # 96.
Soliai is a strong guy. He can stand up guys on the goal line. But word on the street is that he eats barbecued pigs like shish-kebabs. And word is that Tony Sparano doesn't like that Soliai likes to eat. Soliai also likes to do other things, like jump offsides, and not obey team rules. The local media has flat-out stated that the team believes Soliai is the NT of the future, Ferguson's eventual replacement. I disagree entirely. I see a player who has consistently had the same re-occuring issues for the last four or five years going back to his college days. Consistently overweight, consistently being suspended by whatever team he's been on. Instead of an eventual starter, I project Soliai as being in competition for a roster spot. With the addition of Starks, McDaniel, Dotson, Cohen, Ellis, the competition is deep, and a guy who just can't get it together does not just get handed the job. He's going to have to battle for it.

Tony McDaniel, # 78.
Last year we drafted two and signed two big name free agents to bolster the defensive line. This year we added another player by trading one of our three 7th round picks in the 2009 draft for McDaniel. While I don't expect much from McDaniel, he should be better depth than what we had before, and if you consider him a 7th round pick, he's already better value than JD Folsom, our other 7th rounder. The third 7th round pick was traded for a 7th in 2010. I suspect McDaniel could have an upper hand in 'the battle' since he could move around on the line with more ease than say, Rod Wright or Ryan Baker.

Lionel Dotson, # 71.
Dotson was heavily interviewed by several 4-3 teams before the 2008 draft, but one team running a 3-4 saw a different use for him and drafted him in the 7th round. I have to admit, this was one of my favorite picks in 2008 as, like the McDaniel pick above I thought it was tremendous value. Dotson had a steep learning curve coming in undersized, and wide-eyed into the NFL. The Dolphins kept him on the 53 probably for fear he would be claimed off waivers, as he likely would have due to his pre-draft buzz. This year though, he's bigger, and has a year under his belt, so there will be no excuses, and no more keeping him on the shelf. He'll have to show up in TC or they may risk the waiver wire with him in an attempt to get him on the practice squad

Joe Cohen, # 62.
Based on the law of averages, you don't want to be a D-lineman and have the number sixty-two, but Cohen will attempt to break his way onto the roster and a possible number change. I have to be honest, I've seen the guy play and have distinct memories of saying out loud 'wow, this guy sucks!' but watching any 49er defense these days is a sobering experience. Still, if you can't look good on that defense, it'll be really tough to look good on Miami's. Still the Trifecta brought him on board so we'll have to wait and see. However, he has not gotten more than one Sparano name drop in the last 8 months and it was a long time ago, i.e. before OTAs
.

Rod Wright, # 90.
Another 7th round draft pick on a d-lineman? As a member of the 2006 team, Wright is somewhat of an aged veteran of the Dolphins. He's been through 3 different head coaches in that time. He missed his entire rookie season due to injury, and has been average at best ever since. Considering he went from having 9 starts in 2007 to being essentially a 3rd stringer in 2008, things have not been easy for Wright and this might be his last training camp with the Dolphins.

Ryan Baker, # 79. Baker is intriguing at 6'5", 290lbs, and known for being "ferocious" and "tenacious" and a full-speed practice kind of guy. I think based on his inexperience he would be prime practice squad material, but, like Dotson last year, Baker had quite a bit of interest from other teams and chose Miami. Maybe having the chance to play for the current regime is what brought him here, but that doesn't mean he wouldn't take a contract over a weekly check for PS duties. He will be one of the guys to watch in training camp, he just might sneak onto the roster.


Louis Ellis, # 93.
No, that's not the Predator, it's Ellis and some friends having a night out (no word on if the friends survived the evening or not). Ellis is the undrafted free agent nose tackle contender. I've seen some of his game film and the guy was quite decent thought at a weaker level of competition playing for Shaw University. There are rumours of not so great work ethic and attitude, but I've had some contact with Mr. Ellis and he seems to want it, though I'm not sure how much. To know that we will have to wait and see.

So, who do you think will make it onto the 53? What about the practice squad? And more pressing right now, who do you think will be cut before training camp? Keep in mind, it's possible that instead of releasing a player, the Dolphins could choose to trade one for a draft pick.

28 comments:

  1. Does anyone else get the sense Merling is about to have a huge year?

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  2. I see Langford, Ferg, Merling, Starks, McDaniels, Dotson, Solai (unfortunately by circumstance), and Cohen making the 53. I'm not crunching number here, just going by who I like

    For the PS I'll go with Baker and Ellis. But they might want to keep a DE on the there but whatever.

    I liked Wright in 07, was pushing for him to make the team last year, and then he pulled a Torbor and I never saw him again. I had hopes he would develop because he was a stud in college, but alas he's fallen out of favor

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  3. The Knight who says Ni!June 30, 2009 at 1:25 PM

    Good stuff, Tin. I agree about Soliai, this is his last camp with Miami if he doesn't improve on and off the field. But there is a lot of upside with him so he will be given plenty of opportunities.

    For the record, Former Giants NT Jim Burt wore #64 so Joe Cohen can sleep a little easier. Well not really, he probably won't sleep easy until the final day of cuts. LOL

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  4. Phinatic:  "Pulled a Torbor"?  Sounds like a potatoe farmer. LOL  I like that one.  I think I will steel it's use. 

    He pulled a Torbor.... Hey, Pull my Torbor.  LOL

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  5. Hey Tin, what are Dotsons stat's? Does he look more like an end or a tackle? (I know the ends in a 3-4 are built more like tackles than 4-3 ends) where does he project on the line?

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  6. I think he's going to be a BEAST!

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  7. Well Cohen couldn't wear #64 since that's the official Dolphins Center # now.  I know nothing about Jim Burt...did he make it past roster cuts? ;)

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  8. The Knight who says Ni!June 30, 2009 at 1:39 PM

    I think he's going to be a BEAST and a HALF!

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  9. The Knight who says Ni!June 30, 2009 at 1:41 PM

    Are you serious about not knowing anything about Jim Burt?

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  10. I think it will be AWSOME if Merling and Langford both develop into stud starters.  Drafted the same year no less! The 08 draft could turn out to be one of the best we've had in decades!

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  11. The Knight who says Ni!June 30, 2009 at 1:44 PM

    Well randy gets on his hands and knees and yanks on tubers.

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  12. That's not all Randy Yanks!

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  13. The Knight who says Ni!June 30, 2009 at 1:46 PM

    Well randy gets on his hands and knees and yanks on tubers.

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  14. The Knight who says Ni!June 30, 2009 at 1:47 PM

    What like chains?

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  15. Pro-bowl LT, Future bookend Pro-bowl DE's, QB of the future (too early to say PB for him, but he was a 4 year starter!) Potential stud RG (Thomas) Man, it's looking good.  Gotta love some Trifecta!

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  16. he's listed as 6'4" 290lbs.  He might be a bit heavier now, but when he came in last year he was underweight, like he had been on a diet.  He was projected as a 4-3 DT, but the Dolphins want to use him as a DE. 

    I read a short article where it said he played DT his entire college career but showed in post-season that he was capable of playing 3-4 DE.  The article did not expand on this, so I have no idea what it meant.  Did Arizona play 4-3 defense during the regular season, then just for kicks switch to a 3-4 in bowl games?

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  17. um, yes? should I be ashamed?

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  18. Just Kidding Randy.  Knight lobbed one out there and I HAD to take a swing.  Don't want to get you rialed up if you are reading.

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  19. Absolutely you should be ashamed! but not for not knowing who Jim Burt is! :-P

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  20. The Knight who says Ni!June 30, 2009 at 2:07 PM

    No not at all. LOL

    He was an undersized NT who played for those great Giants defenses in the 80s. He was listed at only 6-1 265 but he played with great leverage and he was tough as hell. He's known for knocking out Joe Montana with a brutal rush right up the middle and LT returned the pass for a TD. The Giants won that playoff game over the 49ers 49-3.

    Ironically Burt finished his career with the 49ers. LOL

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  21. The Knight who says Ni!June 30, 2009 at 2:08 PM

    Here's the Burt hit on Montana.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?gl=GB&hl=en-GB&v=OAY_fUOF2HA

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  22. um, people complain about Ted Ginn Jr, but Jerry Rice made damn sure not to
    get anywhere near LT on that play LOL.

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  23. The Knight who says Ni!June 30, 2009 at 2:20 PM

    LOL

    Jerry Rice ran out of bounds quite a bit in his career. He was not the toughest runner after contact.

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  24. This guy won't be running out of bounds:
    http://tinsfins.blogspot.com/2009/06/dolphins-sign-pat.html

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  25. Lol Rockphin!  I think you just pulled a Dan Quayle!

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  26. My thought s are that if all things are equal the trifecta will first keep a guy they picked in the draft over some player they signed while turning over FA rocks from last year. 

    We must keep in mind as fans the Dolphins are still trying to build for the future.  So players like Soliai, Cohen, Wright, may not be here if they do not improve over last year.  Keeping one of these guys for the special teams play is unlikely so without improvement they will be gone.

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  27. I would tweak that statement a little and say they'd rather keep players
    they brought in over someone who's been here. Look at Holliday, Taylor last
    year, Zach freakin Thomas. But I don't think it's necessarily a draft over
    FA thing, at least it's too early to tell since half the drafted players in
    2008 turned out to be starters (Long, Thomas, Merling, Langford). That's a
    phenomenal ratio, but they also brought over a lot of FAs to be starters
    (Smiley, Ayodele, Fasano, Ferguson). The only thing that is proven is that
    they will not hesitate to drop productive players if they're not part of the
    system. The Trifecta likes to say that they're more focused on the draft
    than free agency, but the last two years they have spent absurd amounts of
    money on free agency, more than most teams.

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