Last season, the Miami
Dolphins did a pretty good job of applying pressure on opposing quarterbacks. This
was especially true from the outside linebacker position.
Of the 44 sacks, tied for 3rd
overall in the National Football League, 64% (28.5) came from just four
- OLB Joey Porter (9)
- OLB Jason Taylor (7)
- DL Randy Starks (7)
- OLB Cameron Wake (5.5)
This does not count QB
pressures or hurries, or any of the other myriad of acts that can affect an
opponentís passing game.
One might study the above
numbers and immediately recall the old saying ďif it ainít broke, donít fix
itĒ. But we know that change is a constant companion in the NFL, and the Miami
Dolphins are especially susceptible to it these days. This is what happens en
masse when a 7-9 finish, surrendering the third highest number of points in the
AFC, is the follow-on to an 11-5 season, a divisional title, and a playoff
As we all know, Mssrs.
Porter and Taylor are no longer on the team. Porter was cut, albeit clumsily,
and has since signed with the Arizona Cardinals. His departure was definitely
for the mutual good. Taylor, the greatest defender in team history, was a free
agent. Once the Dolphins made it clear that his services were no longer
desired, he moved on to the rival New York Jets. Donít be upset with TaylorÖthe Jets were the
only team actively interested. And look, a guy has a right to work. So best of
luck to JT, except when he plays the Dolphins.
As for Mssrs. Starks and
Wake, theyíre going to be Dolphins for a long time to come. Theyíre both young
and good, and will now become fixtures as starters in the defensive front
seven. Yet change is coming for both of them, too.
Right after the draft
wrapped up, Tony Sparano confessed that Starks would be moving inside to
defensive tackle on a permanent basis. With NT Jason Ferguson suspended until mid-season and
reserve Paul Soliai not exactly a true NT, this move wasnít exactly a
Starks will have to do the
job in a different manner than Ferg does, because Starks isnít a space eater in
that way. Instead, he will play more of a ď3Ē technique where heíll align
himself at an angle over the center's shoulder (think Warren Sapp). The good
news is that Starks should do very well in this capacity. The bad news is that
tackle in a 3-4 defense isnít exactly a prime pass rushing position.
Now, for those of you sober
types doing the math, the sum of these changes adversely affects about half of
the 2009 total team output in sacks. This begs the question: Where will the
heat come from in 2010?
Part of the answer is an
expectation of greater productivity from Wake. He will be flipped over to the
starting weakside OLB position, the prime spot for bringing heat from the blind
side. Itís a terrific opportunity for him to improve on his 5.5 sacks from a year
ago as a part time defender, and the Dolphins feel he is up to the challenge.
But Wake alone canít be
expected to make up for the loss in pass rush productivity from the departures
of Taylor and Porter, together with Starksí move inside.
The problem the Dolphins
face is that the list of encouraging options after Wake falls off like a jump
from a dive boat into Key Biscayne.
What about inside linebacker
Karlos Dansby, the teamís high profile defensive free agent? He hasnít shown
much as a pass rusher since his 8 sack outburst four seasons ago, and thereís
little reason to expect differently from him now; itís just not his game.
What about first round draft
pick Jared Odrick? He showed very average ability as a pass rusher at Penn State,
and learning to become a good pass rusher in the pros takes time. Ditto second
rounder Koa Misi, who is too light in the britches right now to stand tough
against the run.
Bottom line is that normal inexperience
is the biggest hurdle these two men will probably face in 2010; the proverbial
school of hard knocks, if you will. This is why I just cannot see either of
them running around or through Matt Light or DíBrickashaw Ferguson anytime
So unless DEs Kendall
Langford or Phillip Merling have some sort of an epiphany, new defensive boss
Mike Nolan figures to have his hands full.
This is why the teamís
refusal to re-sign Taylor
makes little sense. Sure, the guy has a year, maybe two, left. But a proven
pass rusher like Taylor, a solid leader who can still be productive on passing
downs, would have strengthened the roster. Instead, Bill Parcells, Jeff
Ireland, and Sparano decided to kneel at the altar of the NFL Draft and pray
that they hit it big with one of the five front-seven players they drafted.
Could it happen? Sure it
could, and I would be the first to defer to their years of experience in this
matter. Yet the odds are long against rookies making that big of an impact in
their first year, not to mention that the devotion of half of their draft picks
to the linebacker position bordered on ridiculous.
But hey, maybe this is the
best approach; pick a bunch of guys you like and hope you hit it big with at
least one of them. If not, the worst outcome is that youíve solidified the
middle of the roster. Any way you look at it, itís a positive outcome that
makes the Dolphins a better team, even if it doesnít help bring down Tom Brady.
Just how the Dolphins will
accomplish that latter task remains to be seen.