Jared “PeeWee” Odrick may just be one of the most critical members of the Dolphins defense this season. Given a drastic change in outlook, he is the future of the team at one of the defensive tackle positions in the Dolphins hybrid 4-3 scheme by 2014, with extremely limited experience behind him. This season will most likely mark the swan song for both Dolphins starters in the middle of the defensive line. Paul Soliai and Randy Starks have been a somewhat unheralded duo in the middle of the defense for the past several years. Both players have played at a high level, and have set the table for the rest of the defense throughout their time in Miami. They are both entering contract years, and due to a number of factors it will most likely be too expensive to apply the franchise tag to either player next offseason.
The defensive tackle position, by design, is generally an unheralded position statistically and in the media. There are rare exceptions, but generally some of the best games from a defensive tackle may yield very few tackles, assists or sacks. The defensive tackle position has different success criteria than any position on defense. Their job, depending upon the scheme, generally makes the defensive ends, linebackers and the secondary look better by enabling them to better perform their roles. Any statistics a defensive tackle accumulates amidst their primary assignments can essentially be viewed as a bonus.
The effect of the defensive tackles against the passing offense is huge. For the defensive ends, the defensive tackle position pushes the pocket back. Pushing the pocket prevents the quarterback from being able to step up and allows the defensive ends to pin their ears back and get after the quarterback while minimizing the escape routes the quarterback has available to him. Pushing the pocket also has two separate effects on the linebackers, both freeing up blitzing lanes while occupying blockers. In addition to this, for both the linebackers that are in pass coverage and the secondary, combined with the effect they have on the defensive ends, they rush the decisions for the quarterback and expands the possibility of bad passes and mistakes. Bad passes and errant throws lead to turnovers, which this team sorely needs more of this season.
Defending against the running game, the defensive tackle role is huge from other perspectives. The tackles occupy blockers and hold or push the offensive line back plugging holes and re-routing the running backs. They interrupt or occupy the running lanes, and slow the backs down by doing so. Through this, they are funneling the running backs and allowing the linebackers to make plays. Strong play from the defensive tackles puts the defensive ends into position to potentially only have to beat a single block to contain and force plays back into the middle of the field and collapsing the field for the running backs. Additionally, for the secondary, strong defensive tackle play will prevent most initial blockers from making their way down field allowing the secondary to fill any gaps as the safety net on running plays.
Jared “PeeWee” Odrick has been a good player for Miami at defensive end, and while he offers hybrid flexibility to play either tackle or end he appears to be making the move to a more interior role this season. From an outside perspective this gives the appearance of grooming him to be a replacement as a starter in the middle of the line in 2014, as the only experienced player at the position behind Starks and Soliai. The Dolphins have four players listed on the depth chart behind Soliai, Starks and Odrick who have shown potential in the preseason, but only have a grand total of twelve games on an NFL game day roster with zero games started and eight tackles – all of which belong to Kheeston Randall.
Looking at this, Miami MUST hope that Odrick shows potential and growth at the position, or else a position of strength for the Dolphins could be left barren next season without potentially overpaying for one or both Soliai and Starks. If Odrick can show growth at the position, it gives Miami a number of options. Odrick could solidify one of the tackle positions heading into next season, allowing Jeff Ireland to spend the cap space in a different area if he so chooses. With the potential Miami has for this season, it would be a disappointment if they are drafting any earlier than fourteenth next season, which all but eliminates the possibility of drafting a top flight defensive tackle next season without trading drastically up in the first round. Most premier defensive tackles with experience rarely hit the open market, leaving Odrick as the most viable option to replace at one of the spots if Soliai and/or Starks were to depart next offseason.
Looking at all of the possibilities, this makes the development of Odrick on the interior one of the most critical storylines for the Dolphins future to watch throughout this season. Whether Miami is able to bring back Soliai and/or Starks is yet to be seen, but without one of them there may be a gaping hole directly in the middle of the defense from the standpoint of experience level. Without effective play and growth from Odrick in the transition to defensive tackle, this could leave the Dolphins with two critical voids to fill for next year. The chain reaction to this being that without effective play in the middle of the defense the entire defense – which shows a great deal of promise for this season – will potentially suffer a huge dropoff in 2014 due to the impact of the position on the rest of the defense, which none of us Dolfans want to see occur.