On a periodic basis between now and the 2006 NFL Draft, I
will take an in-depth look at the Dolphins. This week: Defensive Line.
CurrentState: Nick Saban and the personnel staff did a terrific job
of replacing stalwarts Tim Bowens and Larry Chester, both lost during the
offseason to career-ending injuries. Through free agency, the Dolphins acquired
Keith Traylor and Vonnie Holliday. Traylor was a dominant force, commanding
constant double teams and delivering an MVP level performance. Unfortunately,
Traylor is a 15-year veteran who had to regularly take practice time off to
rest his bad knees. He also missed three games to due to injury (right knee).
Still, Traylor picked up 40 tackles and 2 sacks, one against Michael Vick. The
versatile Holliday, who split time between Tackle and End, racked up 56 tackles
and 5 sacks while playing in all 16 games. Simply put, without Holliday and
Traylor the Dolphins do not win 9 games. Both men figure to return in 2006.
Through the regular and supplemental drafts the Dolphins picked up Manuel
Wright and Kevin Vickerson. Wright saw some action towards the end of the
season, flashing some dominant play in the big comeback win against the Bills.
Heís a keeper. Vickerson injured his knee during the final preseason game and
spent the year on injured reserve. Veteran Jeff Zgonina, the only holdover from
2004, once again delivered a solid performance with his second-best season in
terms of tackles (45). Zgonina is also a good team leader. Orrin Thompson spent
the year on the Practice Squad while Howard Green was a late season pick up.
Strengths: Traylor; a healthy mix of good veterans and promising young players.
Weaknesses: Overall age (Traylor is 36, Holliday is 30 and Zgonina is 35). Traylorís health
Offseason Priority: Medium to High. The encouraging progress of Wright, who made real strides
this past year, lessens the urgency somewhat (relative to other team needs).
Vickerson impressed the coaches before he got hurt; can he return to form?
CurrentState: Another MVP year for the great Jason Taylor, without
a doubt an elite player in this league. The all-time Dolphin sack leader rang
up 12 more sacks and a career high in tackles (77), and did it while suffering
from a painful foot injury and a bad shoulder. His performance earned him
another Pro Bowl berth, his fourth, though the aforementioned injuries will
keep him from playing. The injuries also kept us from seeing more of him in his
outside linebacker role, a new responsibility for him in Sabanís 3-4 scheme.
With a season of 3-4 experience under his belt, Taylor figures to have a monster year in
2006. Kevin Carter was another excellent free agent pick-up. He started all 16
games (continuing a streak of176 straight games), registering 54 tackles and 6
sacks. Expect Carter back in 2006. David Bowens performed in a reserve role. He
started the season very slowly but picked up his production during the second
half with 6 sacks. His high energy style of play on defense and special teams
is fun to watch; he has the ability to play both DE and OLB. Rookie Matt Roth,
the teamís second round selection, also performed in a reserve role. Roth has a
good motor and works hard but has a long way to go with his technique. A solid
offseason of work should help his game to better develop.
Strengths: Taylor, the most dominant DE in team historyÖa difference-maker that
opposing teams must account for at all times; a healthy mix of good veterans
and promising young players.
Weaknesses: Age is starting to become a concern for Taylor (31) and Carter (32).
Offseason Priority: Medium. The Dolphins invested a high draft pick on Roth, Bowens is only
28, and Holliday spends time at DE. The jury is still out on Roth. He figures
to improve, though his real upside is difficult to predict at this time. Expect
Saban to acquire another legitimate young prospect.