It's been basically assumed since training camp began that the starting strong side outside linebacker job was going to belong to rookie Koa Misi. He's worked as the starter in basically every practice and has started all three preseason games at the position. But the situation might be getting a little bit more complicated than we all might have anticipated.
On Sunday, the team's first practice since their loss to Atlanta on Friday night, Ikaika Alama-Francis was working with the first-team as the strong side outside linebacker in Miami's 3-4 defense. Misi, though, did also get some snaps with the starters. However, you have to wonder if the coaching staff was hoping to see a little bit more out of Misi during the preseason.
After practice, head coach Tony Sparano addressed the situation - though I'd say he wasn't exactly very clear here. Asked about whether or not a change was made, promoting Alama-Francis, Sparano said:
"We’re looking at him there right now. Not necessarily a change. And it might even just include that Ike was in that group and we’re maybe looking at Koa as well. So, not really a change, but, he was in first group today.
"I would say that it’s about trying to line your—in some situations—maybe with the emphasis of the day today trying to line your ducks up in the right order a little bit."
It's important to keep in mind that this isn't the first time Ike has taken snaps with the first team. He replaced Misi on a couple of drives in each of the three preseason games. And when you read more about how Sparano felt about the defense's performance on Friday night, I think it's easy to see what the situation really is here.
Talking more about Friday's performance, Sparano was asked about how he thinks his defense played:
"I thought on the defensive side of the ball that the interior part of our group, I thought Atlanta kind of maybe on the surface got after a little bit, but it really wasn’t that. So when I watched the film I thought that was positive—like we were knocking them back pretty good. The ball spilled out on the perimeter a couple times and when the ball spilled out on the perimeter they made some yards and that’s a concern. Can’t happen, but, the interior—the integrity of what was going on in there I thought was fine."
Just like that, it's clear as crystal why Alama-Francis is getting first-team snaps over Misi. The Dolphins are looking at IAF as more of a situational run stopper because of his ability to set the edge. Ike is a converted defensive lineman, after all, whose strength is stuffing the run. Misi, meanwhile, isn't as physically big and strong - but is more athletic and versatile.
This means Koa could be losing snaps on early downs this year to Alama-Francis until he improves his ability to set the edge and stop the run.