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  Position Analysis: Linebackers
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by Chris Shashaty, Phins.com Columnist

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On a periodic basis between now and the 2006 NFL Draft, I will take an in-depth look at the Dolphins. This week: Linebackers.


Current State: 2005 was a major transitional year for the Dolphin LB corps as Nick Saban implemented his 3-4 defensive scheme. As a result, there were new and complex assignments to master. There were also a number of new faces on the roster as Saban sought to bring more size, flexibility, and youth to the group.




In the swirl of all this change was the speculation that the undersized Zach Thomas, the heart and soul of the Miami defense, would be a bad fit in Sabanís scheme. The fear was that Zach would be unable to take on offensive lineman in a 3-4 and thus become a liability against the run. The skeptics mused that his greatness has been the byproduct of a 4-3 system that requires active defensive tackles to occupy blockers so he is free to run and tackle.


Thomas heard the criticism and, as he has his entire career, went out and proved the naysayers wrong. Not only did Zach commit himself to learning the new system, he really thrived in it. Once and for all, he killed the notion that he is a system-bred star. Simply put, he validated his greatness as a player.


This he did while impressively gutting out the last third of the season with a torn labrum in his shoulder, requiring him to play with a supportive harness.


Once again #54 posted a 100+ tackle season (166). What else is new? The 10-year veteran has exceeded 100+ tackles every year as a pro. He was so dominant that he earned his sixth Pro Bowl berth, most all-time among Dolphin defenders.


One day Thomas will be invited to the Hall of Fame as will his teammate, Junior Seau. While Zach still has a lot of good football left in him, Juniorís career could be all but over. A terrific team leader, Seau was only able to play in seven games before being placed on Injured Reserve with an Achilles tendon injury. Clearly, Seauís 36 year old body is failing him. Still, he would like to return to the Dolphins for one more season. With all of the other needs this team needs to address, will Junior be able to sneak on to the 2006 roster?


Juniorís abbreviated season created more playing time for two newcomers, rookie Channing Crowder and free agent pick-up Donnie Spragan (Broncos).


Crowder, a third round pick from Florida, was simply outstanding. He was second on the team in tackles (90), with two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. As a rookie, Crowder saw a LOT of playing time, displaying an uncommon level of maturity. He has the size, speed, and talent to be a Pro Bowler. He also has the advantage of being able to learn from Zach and Junior. In the locker room, Crowder kept things light with his positive attitude and happy outlook on life. Channing Crowder will prove to be a great Dolphin for many years to come.


Spragan started the season in a reserve role but began to see more playing time when Seau became hobbled, tallying 47 tackles, a sack, and a pick. Spragan was a steady, if unspectacular, performer. He has the size, intelligence, and speed to play well in either the 3-4 or 4-3 alignment. 2006 will be contract year for Spragan as he signed a two-year deal when he joined the team. It will be interesting to see if he can improve.


Once again, Eddie Moore endured another disappointing season as he was place on Injured Reserve with a knee injury (his third year in a row on IR). Moore was Miamiís top pick in 2003, a second round selection. It is difficult to offer analysis on his game as he has taken very few snaps. In the NFL, the bottom line is production. After three seasons, it is only fair to label his career as a bust.


Second year man Derrick Pope continued to overachieve his 2004 seventh round selection (222nd overall) with solid special teams and reserve play. Twice starting in place of an injured Thomas, he more than held his own. Pope has outstanding instincts and really runs well. Expect him to compete for full time duty in the 3-4 alignment in 2006.


Reserves Nick Rogers, Lester Towns, and Jason Glenn contributed mostly on special teams.


Strengths: The great Zach Thomas, one of the top players in the National Football League, is the best linebacker the team has ever had; Good young players in Crowder, Spragan, and Pope; Flexibility of players to line up at multiple positions; Good overall speed and instincts.


Weaknesses: Lack of quality depth at OLB.


Offseason Priority: Medium. Expect Saban to bring in some fresh talent, guys with the size, speed, and intelligence to compete for three to four jobs.




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