Mike Nolan's Miami Dolphins defense ranked 6th in 2010 and is poised to climb higher in 2011. Free agent acquisition Kevin Burnett steps in for released veteran Channing Crowder at ILB, as the Dolphins return 10 starters from 2010.
The Dolphin defensive line may be the deepest in the NFL. Any of six players could be starters on most NFL teams, Lankford, Soliai, Starks, Odrick, Merling, McDaniel, with Ryan Baker in the mix. The depth will give the Dolphins the ability to swap linemen at will as situational pass rushers and run stuffers. It would not be surprising to see the Dolphins trade one of these players if the right opportunity arises.
At Linebacker, replacing the underachieving Crowder with Burnett is a definite upgrade in the middle. Burnett and Dansby are both considered coverage LBs. The Patriots are loaded with TEs and slot receivers in an offense designed to exploit plodding LBs, that problem has now been addressed. On the outside, Misi is a good all around LB and the Dolphins welcomed back Jason Taylor as a situational pass rusher opposite the dynamic Cameron Wake.
The secondary returns all its starters from a year ago. On the corners Vontae Davis has proclaimed Sean Smith and himself as the best tandem in the league. A cornerback without confidence should be looking for another profession and Davis is full of it. Smith tends to play a quieter game, his lanky frame and exceptional speed find him in position to make plays on the ball, but this year he needs to turn those plays into interceptions. Yeremiah Bell is a veteran team captain at strong safety and Chris Clemons has solidified himself at free safety.
Coming into the draft the Dolphins were looking to fortify the offensive leaving fewer opportunities for rookie, or FA defensive players to make an impact. As predicted, 7th round pick Jimmy Wilson showed the aggressive play that landed him on the roster. FA Linebackers Jason Trusnik acquired from the Browns and Marvin Mitchell from the Saints excel as core special teams players. NT Frank Kearse went to the practice squad after initially making the team. A move used to make room for TE Will Yeatman, sniped from the Patriots.
The lack of roster moves on the defensive side points to stability not seen in Miami for a number of years. Overall Jeff Ireland and his crew have done a great job of evaluating and acquiring defensive talent. The original blueprint called for a QB, someone to protect him and then defense, defense, defense, until the unit was complete. It is safe to say the Dolphins have manned the defense and are now looking to finish off the offense.
Wilson, Trusnik, Mitchell and Yeatman strengthen the special teams. There was a lot of speculation Will Allen was a contract casualty, but Allen was released because he did not contribute on special teams. Nolan Carroll was not lighting things up at the corner in the pre-season, but he too is a core special teams player. A.J. Edds may have played a little better than Austin Spitler, but Spitler’s play on special teams won him a spot, with Edds landing on the practice squad. Sapp and Culver won positions in the nickel and dime packages. Along with Alama-Francis their special teams prowess kept them on the roster. Reshad Jones fought it out with Chris Clemons for the free safety but he too has value on special teams.
The Dolphins made a concerted effort to impact special teams with the players not on the starting roster. It is obvious special teams coach Darren Rizzi influenced the final roster moves. Losing Patrick Cobbs as a core special team player hurt the Dolphins, but Cobbs did not fit in the new offense. Once again, not re-signing Cobbs shows that Tony Sparano has no intention of reverting to his old conservative ways.
What are your thoughts on the Dolphin roster? Is the team ready to compete in 2011?