For the last 10 years the question of “If” has surrounded the Miami Dolphins offense. While this year, that has not changed, what has changed is that it is now just as pertinent to the Miami Dolphins defense. Forget about the losses of Zach Thomas and Jason Taylor, there are more questions surrounding the direction of this unit since Jimmy Johnson first took over for Don Shula. The answers are far from being clear.
From a new philosophy to the implementation of a new system, new coaches to more new faces than the first day of freshman High-School, the Phins defense is weighted with the bodies of 2nd tier free agents, unproven rookies, and veterans who have just as many questions to their abilities as they do their health.
This is our 2nd look at the men that will make up the training camp roster…on the defensive side of the ball.
It all starts in the trenches they say and for the Phins it is no different. While the teams coaches still side-step questions about whether they will run a 34 or a 43 one look at the roster tells you they are running the 34. Only two players are listed on the teams roster as DT’s.
Jason Ferguson – The long time veteran is coming off an injury from last year, a common theme among Miami’s free agent signings, while Ferguson was part of a trade with Dallas, he will be used as the primary nose tackle. The Dolphins want to move to a 34 which is the system that Bill Parcells has always used so it’s no secret that Ferguson was on their radar from the start. While JF is up there in years, his play still should be at a level that helps mold this defense and allows it to begin the transition full time.
Anthony Toribio – This is a great story that may have an even happier ending. Undrafted and unsigned following the draft, the Phins invited the local kid to a try out during the teams first mini-camp. Impressed with his conditioning they offered him a deal and signed him that weekend. Toribio has a lot more to show this team than just south Florida heat tolerance. He will need to show he belongs. While many fans will be rooting for the Cinderella boy, the odds are not in his favor…but they are in his control.
The Phins have more DE’s (9) listed on their official roster that will soon start shaking down to interior lineman as the TC progresses. Gone of course is Jason Taylor the 11 year stalwart and fan favorite so it is time to move on. With the team possibly looking at starting a bookend of DE rookies a few veterans will have their futures brought into question as well.
Vonnie Holiday – Holliday is the now the Miami Dolphins returning veteran and his health last year should not keep him out of many games this year. However, recent comments about the trade of Jason Taylor has put Holliday in the light of being bitter. He understands that this team is no longer competing and is in fact rebuilding, evident by the JT departure. Holliday has to realize that his days in Miami are numbered. He is the high-priced aging veteran on a team moving toward a future and not the present. While Holliday is likely to be on the team all year, would it really surprise anyone if he were traded or released should the younger guys really step up? It’s not likely but worth watching and at least considering.
Paul Soliai – Last year Soliai looked like a huge mistake and so far this off-season he hasn’t really done much to curtail those thoughts. More of a DT than a DE and not big enough or mean enough to play NT, Soliai is seriously on the bubble. His work ethic has come into question and that is not good with this group of staffers. I really do not believe that there is a place for him on this team and I look for him to be gone by the final cuts.
Randy Starks – Here is a kid who comes to the team as a FA from Tennessee. While there are some questions as to who good or how bad he can be, filling in for the injured Albert Haynesworth last year showed the NFL potential that he has. While listed as a DE, Starks can play some NT as well and that is likely where he will see his playing time, behind Jason Ferguson. Starks has a lot of upside but the coaches need to develop that and if they can, the young Starks could be a nice fit in this defense for the future.
Matt Roth – The days of Roth are numbered I am afraid. With Roth struggling as a 43 DE, he will likely struggle more as 34 DE and there are serious doubts as to whether he can transition to LB. While the team will still use the 43 some Roths value this year is a little higher than what it will be following the season. Honestly, I think that Roth could find himself associated with a minor trade or two during TC. The Dolphins won’t get much for him, but maybe a bubbled veteran from another team. Still, the problem is that the Dolphins don’t know if they will get much from him on the field either. Which is a shame, as I have always been a fan or Matt Roth’s.
Quentin Moses – Moses was drafted by the Raiders in Round 3 and at one point was considered a round 1 talent, immediately claimed off waivers by the Cardinals, the Cards had no room for him and he was released. Randy Mueller saw enough in him to give him a roster spot and so far Moses has become a fan favorite. He has not played lights out, but he has shown some really good signs that he will stick and could be a star. Will the Dolphins find room for him on the interior as in making him bulk up to play NT? Will he be nothing more than a backup DE? While those questions are legit, Moses is expected to compete for himself to make this team.
Rodrique Wright – Another of the late round defensive lineman selected in the last few years, Wright is finally healthy and has shown some flashes. But I think he is more of natural DT than an NT which could be an issue. He needs to step up this year as the Phins are loaded at DE and someone has to go. I don’t think Wright makes the team…I hope I am wrong.
Lionel Dotson – This kid has absolute raw talent. A walk on in college he had never played high school ball. He is raw and unrefined and not likely to stick on the 53. He may however be a candidate for the practice squad if he can show enough in TC.
Kendall Langford – Langford was projected to go much higher in the draft than round 3. The Dolphins may have gotten a serious steal with the DE who now has a chance to start with JT gone. Langford is tough but needs some refining and the fact that he is a rookie will put him back a bit as he gets used to the speed of the NFL. Still, the upside is definitely there and Langford should be able to anchor one side of the defense for a long time.
Phillip Merling – As of this writing, Merling is still not under contract but that will likely end later today (Friday). Merling was a mid 1st round prospect who slid due to an off-season hernia operation. That hernia is healed and the Dolphins got what some considered a top 10 pick at 32. The Phins were so happy that he was there, they risked letting Chad Henne fall to the latter half of the round. Merling will be expected to anchor the opposite side of the defense. He is big, fast, and strong and all signs point to this kid being around a very long time. His impact as a rookie will be tough to define as the entire unit will have to learn together.
Prediction: Lionel Dotson and Paul Soliai I do not believe will make this team. Depending on how the team breaks down the positions, Wright also is a likely to be gone candidate as well.
The Line-backing corp of the Dolphins used to be a strong one. There were always questions about the weak side and whether the Phins did enough to shore up the depth, but never so many questions as this year. Gone is the leader and signal caller Zach Thomas. The 12 year veteran stands to potentially be missed more than JT by the fans. He was always around the ball. At this position, the Dolphins truly are in new waters.
Joey Porter – Last season Porter looked like the biggest mistake the Dolphins ever made, his salary is now the highest on the defense. The problem with Porter may have had more to do with how the team used him, Dom Capers, than Porter himself. Porter is a pass rushing pass defending LB and last year he was asked to stop the run and not rush the QB. He was way out of his element. The Phins say this year Porter will be back to doing what he did best. If that is true, we will get a better gage on the player we got in FA last year.
Channing Crowder – It says a lot about a player who is now the high-profile MLB on the team and is expected to be the leader and signal caller and yet, in a contract year, the Dolphins are waiting to see what they have. Crowder has the talent but he has yet to step up and use it all. He has to this year or he will be gone. While he plays well, he doesn’t take over the play, he lets it come to him and that is something he needs to learn not to do. Good linebackers play well, great LB’s play well all the time. So far, Crowder has really done neither.
Reggie Torbor – The former Super Bowl LB for the NY Giants comes to Miami in an attempt to help shape this team. Torbor has a non-stop motor that often gets him out of position. He needs to reel some of it back in and play smarter. While he has the tools and the athleticism, he needs to learn how to use it effectively and with more control. The Dolphins coaches should be able to get that out of him. Torbor is a starter on some teams, a back up on others, in Miami, he should easily be able to start.
Charlie Anderson – Already there is a lot of talk that Anderson is the number 1 middle LB and that he will play alongside Crowder. Anderson has been impressive without the pads on but the real test comes when the pads come on. While not a 100 percent lock to make the team, he is at least at 99 percent and has a better than 90 percent chance of being one of the starting LB’s.
Akin Ayodele – Part of the trade that brought Anthony Fasano, Ayodele was rumored to be the part of the trade that the Cowboys threw in to get it done. He was expendable in Dallas due to his salary and the signing of Zach Thomas. Ayodele however is not a mere backup roster player. He has the talent to start but has to be more consistent. He projects to be a serious part of this rebuild and should see plenty of playing time and opportunity.
The LB’s are a hard bunch to call this year, Kelly Poppinga, Keith Saunders, and Titus Brown are the rookies and of the 3 Poppinga has been getting most press, what little there has been. Of the rest of the roster spots dedicated to the LB corp, Junior Glymph has more experience with 4 years while Rob Ninkovich has 3. Kelvin Smith, drafted last year, and Edmond Miles have less then 3 combined. None of those names really stand out as legitimate contenders for a lot of playing time.
Predictions: Really hard to call, the players listed in “the rest” must perform well on ST’s to have a chance at a roster spot. There are so many questions surrounding the LB’s that they will either play well or horribly. There is likely to be little middle ground. All in all, I think that only 3 of the “rest” make the team and my guess is Poppinga and Glymph with Kelvin Smith maybe getting another year.
The subject of every fans ire, the Dolphins CB’s are nothing like they used to be in the days of Madison and Surtain. While rumors continue to swirl that Surtain may be a roster cut casualty in KC, don’t look for Parcells and company to give it a look if it happens. For whatever reason, they seemed content on what they had on the roster entering free agency. I think this is who they stick with as well unless there is a big surprise cut during TC from somewhere else.
Andre’ Goodman – Funny only a couple of years ago, fans wanted him gone and there were questions about his play. Goodman has actually been surprisingly decent. But his health is an issue and he needs to take the next step to make sure that the Fins don’t go searching for a starter next year. For now, Goodman should be the starter opposite Will Allen.
Will Allen – Allen has played well the last two seasons and he will need to do so again. The good thing is that on paper the defensive front should be able to help out the secondary more than last year…on paper and in theory. Allen has some unsettled off-field issues that the NFL is looking into as well. It could end up being something that costs him a game or two.
Michael Lehan – Last off-season Lehan was having his head called for. The corner was best remembered for his two stupid penalties in the opening season game against Pittsburgh the year before. Somewhere along the line, he suddenly got it and played well enough the the “Trifecta” saw fit to make him a priority signing. Now he has to step up again to the next level and play consistently.
Travis Daniels – The project is all but over on Daniels. If he makes the roster this year, it will be one and done if he doesn’t get it together…and that is IF he makes the roster. 4 years and there are still serious doubts about where he should play. He didn’t work out at safety and he hasn’t worked out at Corner. There is no time like the present, for Daniels in Miami, that has never been more true.
Nathan Jones - Another former Cowboy who know the Todd Bowles Dan Pasquolini system, Jones will likely be the reason that Daniels finds himself out of a job. He has a year more experience and the Phins staff have seen enough of him to bring him in. He will push Daniels for playing time, and might push him to the unemployment line.
Joey Thomas – A free agent signing this past off-season, Thomas has some upside to him that needs to be refined and his technique needs some work but those are fixable. The 3 year veteran is one of the taller CB’s at 6-1 195 pounds. Thomas has a real shot to make the roster and should see some significant looks on ST’s as well.
Scorpio Babers – The undrafted rookie has a rough road ahead of him and with a thick group in front, Babers will make his mark on ST’s if he wants to make the team.
Will Billingsley – Another undrafted rookie may not make it to training camp.
Predictions: Babers and Billingsley I don’t see making the team. I think Travis Daniels is seriously in trouble and will need to show that he can prove he belongs to take a roster spot. This is it for him.
Last year the Dolphins appeared to have a good group, but losing Yeremiah Bell in the opening game for the year severely put that at risk. The Dolphins suffered more injuries last year than in recent memory and the Safety position suddenly was horrendous. The good news however was the emergence of one Jason Allen who suddenly appeared to have a light bulb click on above his head. Now he needs to improve on it. The questions are still there but they lean more toward health than talent.
Yeremiah Bell – The longest tenured Miami Dolphins draftee, Bell is a surprise to still be on the roster coming in as a Dave Wannstedt 2003 6th round pick. The only real knock on Bell is his health. And this year will be no different. A sure starter if he can stay healthy, that seems to be the only question that keeps him down.
Jason Allen – Allen was the bust the Dolphins had grown tired of seeing in round 1. Saban took him in the mid 1st and immediately Allen was in the doghouse and when he was on the field he was lost and looked like a sure fire mistake. Last year, Allen began to show signs that he finally was getting it. He has a long way to go but the promise he showed last season has fans believing that Allen could be around for a long time.
Renaldo Hill – Hill suffered a severe injury last year as well and now the question for him is can he recover his speed enough to get better? There really isn’t much to say on Hill other than watching his recovery.
Keith Davis and Chris Crocker – Davis is yet another ex-Cowboy that the Phins seem high on. He is a hard hitting safety that needs refinement work. There were quite a few Boyz fans that were not happy that Jerry Jones let him go. We will see. Crocker on the other hand comes to Miami as another prospective tough as nails safety with a mean streak. Both are expected to make the team and contribute in the short and long run of the rebuild.
Courtney Bryan – Bryan, the 2nd year player out of New Mexico in ’07 is not likely to stick around unless injuries begin to take it’s toll again. The talent in front of him is just too much for him to seriously contend against for a roster spot.