In the final installment of my NeedTracker Series, we'll take a look at the Dolphins defense. The D definitely needs more work than the offense, with upgrades needed in 3 of the 4 position groups, and quite a few aging pieces that don't have much longer to contribute. And, although these guys stepped it up in the last game, I still believe that changes need to be made on this side of the ball. So let's not waste any more time up here, Make the Jump.
Football is won in the trenches, and I'll once again start there.
- Starters - DE Kendall Langford, NT Jason Ferguson, DE Randy Starks
- Reserves - NT Paul Soliai, DE Phillip Merling, DE Tony McDaniel, DE Lionel Dotson, DE Ryan Baker, DE Ikaika Alama-Francis
The DE position is talented, deep, and young. With 2nd year players Langford and Merling (both a product of Parcells' first draft), and Randy Starks (age 26) and Tony McDaniel (24) as the 4 rotational players. Dotson was also drafted that first year, and has stuck on the roster despite not seeing much action. There is no need at the DE position. But many people feel like we have a hole in the middle with Ferguson injured, not to mention a soon-to-be free agent. He has expressed interest in coming back, and Soliai has done a nice job filling in, so I wouldn't classify it as a huge need, assuming Ferguson is able to come back strong. If not, we would need to find a running mate for Soliai (or convert one of the tackles, possibly 6'7 305lb Tony McDaniel.. hmm).
We are pretty thin here, and when Channing Crowder is the best LB on your team, you need to reevaluate the position. Nothing against Channing, who certainly can play the run, but we need more talent inside, specifically, an upgrade of Akin Ayodele with somebody who is able to cover TE's and RB's. Torbor provides solid veteran depth and does well when asked to fill in. I think the biggest issue in the middle here is the severe lack of playmaking ability. The highest single-season total for INT's from any one of these players is 2 (Ayodele), and Crowder just logged his first career INT two weeks ago. Bottom line, we need a stud to pair with Channing.
- Starters - Rush LB Joey Porter, Strongside Jason Taylor
- Reserves - Rush LB Cameron Wake, Strongside Charlie Anderson, Strongside Quentin Moses, Erik Walden
Porter and Taylor are both nursing home candidates by NFL standards, and they both have looked their age at points this year. But they also have both been terrific against the run, and Porter has quietly amassed 8 sacks on the season, good for 6th in the AFC. And I think we all realize now that Cam Wake is the best pass rusher on this squad, and looks like he'll be able to step in for Porter any time now. Anderson has been effective, but doesn't bring a lot to the table, and Moses is still an unknown at this point, although some people do have high hopes for the kid. Walden is a Trifecta favorite because of his raw athleticism and special teams prowess. I do believe that we need to go after a strongside backer, somebody that can rush the passer, play the run, and beat up TE's just as well as he can cover them. Taylor won't be able to play forever, so a replacement is needed sooner rather than later.
- Starters - CB Vontae Davis, CB Sean Smith, SS Yeremiah Bell, FS Gibril Wilson
- Reserves - CB Nate Jones, CB Will Allen, CB Jason Allen, FS Chris Clemons, SS Tyrone Culver
Righ off the bat, Wilson needs to be replaced. He's been the biggest disappointment this side of Ted Ginn, and he provides very little help to our rookie tandem at CB. Davis and Smith have both been better than expected, showing signs of being one of the top duo's in the league very soon. Bell has been solid, but the safety position as a whole has been dragged down by Wilson's subpar play. Depth-wise, we are fine, with Jones holding down the nickel CB spot and Will Allen hopefully recovering from his injury to come back strong. Clemons and Culver could be the future starters at the two safety spots. Jason Allen is Jason Allen, but as the 5th corner, he is a damn good special teamer.
Looking at the defense, we are still missing some pieces, but the DE and CB positions are set, and they will be the anchors of our D. But we do need to find a NT, a playmaker at ILB, a beast for the Strongside OLB spot, and a new FS.
- Free Agency/Trades - Obviously the big prize would be Vince Wilfork, but I can't possibly see him hitting the market unless NE lowballs him bigtime. Other potential options are Abreyu Franklin from SF, Casey Hampton from PIT, and my personal favorite of the group, Ryan Pickett from GB, who could very well hit the market, considering GB just drafted 2009's top NT prospect, BJ Raji. If Pickett is available, I would love to snag him.
- Draft - Everybody has an opinion on Terrence Cody, and mine is that he stinks. If not for Carlos Dunlap, Cody would be the laziest player in the country, and I can't imagine him making it through training camp, nevermind dominating the middle of an NFL offensive line. Dan Williams is an under-the-radar favorite of many, but I think we would need to take him in round 1, and I'm not too keen on taking a NT first, especially with Soliai improving and Ferguson possibly coming back. A few late round prospects I'd be willing to take are Boo Robinson from Wake Forest, Jay Ross from ECU, and Torrell Troup, from Central Florida.
- Free Agency/Trades - There's a whole boatload of quality guys slated to hit free agency this year, and a few of the guys that I think Miami should take a look at are Karlos Dansby, Larry Foote, Barrett Ruud, and DeMeco Ryans. Not all of them will hit the market, but if any of them do, we should jump all over them.
- Draft - Rolando McClain is the favorite of just about everyone here, but his stock may rise to the point where we can't get him. Brandon Spikes is probably the 2nd rated LB in this class, and Micah Johnson should be a good complement to Crowder inside. Daryl Sharpton (from? The U!) is the fastest ILB in the class, and could probably be picked up in the 3rd-4th round.
- Free Agency/Trades - Well... Julius Peppers is slated to be a FA again, and anyone who was here last year knows how I felt about him (those of you that weren't, I want him to be a Dolphin). Outside of him, I don't see any strongside backers worth picking up.
- Draft - This is where we should find our guy. Jerry Hughes from TCU, Von Miller from TexA&M, and Sergio Kindle from Texas should all be there when we pick in round 1, and I wouldn't be disappointed with any of them. With one of these guys opposite Cam Wake, we would be scary good rushing the passer and stopping the run. Ricky Sapp (Clemson) would be a good player to pick up in round 2.
A FS That Doesn't Suck
- Free Agency/Trades - Instead of looking into FA or trade options, I thought I'd make a case for bumping Chris Clemons into the starting lineup. He definitely has the speed to cover the entire field, and he's proven to be a fearless hitter and solid tackler on special teams. During the preseason, he flashed signs of being a serious playmaker in the secondary, so I'd love to give him a shot as a starter before we go signing another FA.
- Draft - Saying all that about Clemons, if Eric Berry is somehow, someway available when we pick in the first round, we absolutely have to take him no questions asked. Other than that extremely unlikely scenario (Berry is projected as a top 5 pick by every single person on planet earth), I would be looking for a guy to compete with Clemons, someone like Major Wright from UF, or Earl Thomas from Texas, both of whom could be available in the 2nd round. I would completely avoid Taylor Mays, because he looks like a workout warrior destined to fail for the Raiders.
The Defense is still a work in progress, but seeing as how the Trifecta picked up 2 stud DE's in one draft, and 2 (possibly 3, pending Clemons development) studs in the secondary in the next, I have faith that they'll fix the issues we currently on the defensive side of the ball. I have high hopes for the future of this D, with the deep DL, Wake becoming a monster off the edge, and our shut down tandem at CB leading the way.
Just so you know, I have a lot more on tap for the new year, including the 2009 Matty's, The Phinsider Draft Summit (more on that as we get closer to it), and numerous offseason posts including Mock Drafts and Prospect Profiles. Keep your eyes peeled, I'm back.