While it was Miami’s Offensive Line and the “bullygate” scandal that garnered all of the press and attention last season, the Dolphins’ linebackers corp was arguably and definitely the most underrated weakness on the team. After cutting veteran LB’s Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett and adding Dannell Ellerbee and Philip Wheeler, the lack of improvement was disappointing to say the least, especially after the “old” Dolphin linebackers (Dansby and Burnett) went on to experience more successful ensuing seasons.
Thus far, we have not seen much of a change. That being said, DC Kevin Coyle has made one glaring attempt to fix what is the core of the Miami Dolphins defense. Earlier this summer, Coyle shifted outside linebacker Koa Misi inside to the middle, and rotated Ellerbee outside to Misi’s position. This should allow Misi, who is the better run defender and tackler, to be able to roam and make more plays from the middle of the field. It should also free up Ellerbee (an adequate and growing pass rusher) to make more plays off of the edge. Wheeler, who I thought was the best of the three last year, remains in his same position. Wheeler desperately needs to work on his consistency in the pass-defense category.
Moving forward, we can expect to see more LB play from sophomore and former third round pick Dion Jordan. Shockingly, Jordan was highly underused last year, for reasons unknown. He and All-Pro DE Cameron Wake rarely saw the field together, and after the pro-bowl caliber season of Olivier Vernon, I think we can expect to see Jordan line up frequently in the standing up LB position. His lengthy range and uncanny speed off the edge will give offensive lines nightmares, and he may be the best pass defending linebacker the Dolphins have. Coyle’s main problem should not be Jordan’s lack of playing time, but rather the dilemma of having too many places to put him.
Should these three guys (let’s exclude Jordan until he gets more playing time) continue their woes from last season, expect to see a personnel change. Head Coach Joe Philbin thinks the world of last year’s draft pick Jelani Jenkins, a smaller linebacker with great speed and good pass coverage. The ‘Fins also spent a draft pick on Montana’s Jordan Tripp, whose later draft presence and ability to be everywhere on the field is reminiscent of former Dolphins great Zach Thomas. Tripp and Jenkins need to be ready to step up in big situations should Miami’s big three not get it done.
With an already stellar defensive line and a secondary just one piece away from being at the top of the AFC, the Dolphins linebackers need to step up. Too many times last season did they rely on the secondary to make tackles and big plays. The defensive line would do a fantastic job of disrupting the opposing offense, just to have the linebackers miss an easy tackle or fail to cover a check-off or running back. Miami’s new motto for this season is #StrongerTogether. I can’t think of a perfect two words to describe exactly what this group of linebackers must become.