Paul Soliai dominated in the middle of the defensive line last year for the Dolphins. Who is this year's breakout player going to be?
First and foremost, I have to give the thanks to 54 for the inspiration behind this post. He emailed me the concept idea, and this is what it has become. Hopefully, this is what he had in mind.
Today, we are going to look at the Dolphins roster, as it stands now, and see if any of the players are primed for the breakout season that Paul Soliai had last year. We'll take a look at some of the lesser known players, and discuss the chances that they will become a standout for Miami in 2011.
To review, Soliai was set to backup Randy Starks at the nose tackle position last year, as Starks moved from the defensive end position to the inside to make room for first round draft pick Jared Odrick. Then, Odrick broke his leg and was out for the year. After an offseason of preparing himself to be the nose tackle, Starks quickly found himself back at the d-end position, and Soliai was thrust into the starting role.
From there, Paul never looked back. The 2007, 4th round pick from Utah doubled his career statistics, finishing 2010 with 33 solo tackles, 2 sacks, and two passes defensed. Suddenly, the Dolphins had the anchor in the middle of the line they thought Starks would be. Soliai's performance was so dominant, and impressed the team so much, that they quickly applied the franchise tag to him - paying him $12million for the upcoming season - a status he has pointed out means he has to continue to perform, telling Omar Kelly on WQAM, "It means a lot to me, but there’s a lot of things I got to do. I got to come into camp in good shape, come in at the right weight, and try to become a leader. I got to do everything right."
So, who could be the Dolphins' next Soliai? I see seven distinct possibilities.
Koa Misi. Misi finished the year with 4.5 sacks, tied for third in the league for rookie sacks. Playing opposite Cameron Wake could well get Misi a higher sack total this upcoming year, as well as freeing up Wake for more devistation.
Chris Clemons. Clemons played well last year. Although he isn't an interception machine for the Dolphins, he also doesn't get beat too often. And the kid tackles well. With Sean Smith and Vontae Davis locking down the corners, the it's time for the Dolphins safeties to step up. Look for Clemons to do that.
Nate Garner. A broken foot doomed Garner last year, who was originally slated to be a starter on the o-line. A year removed from the injury, and with Jake Long to work with him, Garner could come back and reclaim his spot. With Long solidified at the left tackle, and first round pick Mike Pouncey taking the center role, look for Garner to fight for either the right tackle position or, more likely, one of the guard spots. The battle between Garner and....
John Jerry. ...could be interesting. Jerry's injuries/illness last year kept him from performing up to the level expected. But, just like Garner, he could be poised to dominate on the line, if he is fully recovered.
Jared Odrick. The Miami Dolphins' defense was great last year. This upcoming season, it could just be scary. Odrick, yet another Dolphin coming off of injury, could be a big part of that. Adding a pass rush threat from the defensive end position, to either spell or balance Starks, could be a big piece to the lights out defense expected in South Beach.
Sean Smith. Smith was dominate but frustrating last year. He was always in the right position, getting his hands on the ball. The problem was, he couldn't keep his hands on the ball, dropping it more times than, well, Brandon Marshall (who seemed to drop the ball as much as he caught it at times last year - but that's not the point). With Smith's instincts and his ability to make a play, he could be the Dolphins most poised to breakout this year - and maybe make people forget about that "island" in New Jersey.
And finally, Chad Henne. New offense. New offensive threats. No doubt about his need to perform. We could be in for a treat as Henne responds, or the ultimate flame out. I think Henne's ready for it, and we will see him improve over his rookie campaign in 2009. With the stories of him and Long setting up the player workouts during the labor stoppage, and him becoming more vocal as a leader with the team, we may be seeing Henne gain the confidence and maturity this teams needs beneath center. If that's the case, Henne could be ready for the next step.
So, what do you think? Do you agree these guys could be the next stars for Miami? Who do you see that I didn't put in here?