by Chris Shashaty, Phins.com Columnist
On a periodic basis between now and the 2005 NFL Draft, I will take an in-depth look at the Dolphins. This week: Defensive Line.
Current State: Perhaps no other position was as badly decimated by injuries as was the defensive tackle position. Starters Larry Chester and Tim Bowens were simply non-factors. Chester was lost Week 2 with a season-ending knee injury. Bowens never got out of the starting gate, entering training camp with a back injury that never got better. He played in three games, starting only two, and netted a grand total of two tackles before landing on Injured Reserve. Chester will be back in 2005, the same may not be said for Bowens (health, salary). Reserve Jeff Zgonina and newcomer Bryan Robinson (Bears) filled in admirably as starters. Zgonina posted his best season ever, with career highs in tackles, sacks, and passes defensed. Robinson had his best season ever in terms of tackles made. Reserve Dario Romero improved considerably. Josh Shaw and Mario Monds, late season pick-ups, were non-factors.
Strengths: When healthy, Bowens and Chester. They may just be the most dominant pair of DTs in the game. Reserves Zgonina and Robinson allow the Dolphins the luxury of a 3 to 4 man quality rotation that can wear on opposing interior linemen.
Weaknesses: Overall age and health of Bowens, Chester, and Zgonina. Questionable presence of a truly dominant Nose Tackle should Nick Saban elect to go to a 3-4 defensive scheme.
Offseason Priority: Medium to High. Even if Saban stays with the current 4-3 defensive scheme, the Dolphins are in real need of some fresh blood. In hindsight, Rick Spielman’s decision to pass on drafting Vince Wilfork was simply stupid.
Current State: What a year for Jason Taylor, one of the most disruptive forces in the league. While his numbers were not career-best, his dominant play and disruptive potential frequently demanded double and triple teams as opposing offensive coordinators were compelled to account for him. The team’s crowning moment this year, the 29-28 win over the Patriots on Monday Night Football, was a testament to his game-changing skills. His peers recognized him with a Pro Bowl berth, the only Dolphin to be so honored this season. With the departure of Adewale Ogunleye (traded to Bears), David Bowens was finally afforded an opportunity to show off his skills. While Bowens’ numbers (26 tackles, 7 sacks) were comparable to Ogunleye’s (29, 5.5), it is obvious that Ogunleye is a superior run stopper. Reserve Jay Williams turned in an improved effort over his disappointing 2003 campaign.
Strengths: Taylor. His ability to rush the passer, stop the run, and cover the hook zones and flats makes him one of the most complete defenders in the NFL. Not too bad for an “undersized” guy from Akron.
Weaknesses: Left Defensive End; overall ability to stop the run at the point of attack and pressure the quarterback. No DEs on roster that can play in a 3-4 scheme (lack of size).
Offseason Priority: High to Very High. If the Dolphins continue with the 4-3, an upgrade at LDE is needed. If Saban changes over to a 3-4, Taylor could be moved to OLB where he would become a current-day A.J. Duhe. In that event, the Dolphins would need at least two big defensive ends in the 300lb range, one of which must be able to pressure the quarterback.