The Miami Dolphins have spent all three weeks of the third phase of their Organized Team Activities with Koa Misi at the middle linebacker position. Misi, who has played defensive end and outside linebacker in both a 3-4 and a 4-3 system throughout his collegiate and NFL careers, is learning yet another new position.
Misi makes the switch from outside to inside because of necessity after a disappointing year from one of last offseason's key acquisitions, Dannell Ellerbe.
With Ellerbe at MLB, the Dolphins defense allowed 1,998 yards rushing in 2013, the worst total allowed since the atrocious 1-15 season of 2007. Ellerbe's inability to take blockers head on (as MLBs often face a center or pulling guard), get underneath their pads and then get passed the blocker was detrimental to the defense.
Too often Ellerbe would try to be quicker than a blocker and go around him. This is a playing style that is simple not suited for the MLB position as it opens up big running lanes in the middle of the defense.
Misi, as previously stated, spent his entire collegiate career playing on the defensive line which means he has experience engaging blockers directly and shedding them to make the tackle.
Misi has been praised by Dolphins' Head Coach Joe Philbin for his outstanding fundamentals and effort on the football field. Philbin has said that "when we do a year-end cut-up and we show examples how to take on a block, how to tackle properly, how to pursue the football. (Misi) shows up on a lot of those cut-ups."
Misi is two inches taller than Ellerbe and a just over ten pounds heavier. This extra size will be much appreciated when Misi stonewalls a blocker instead of being driven backwards or trying to go around the blocker only to see the running back run by him.
Misi also had two sacks last season, more than Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler combined (1.5), and he did it in much less snaps as he usually left the field on third downs. This means Misi could thrive as a part of Kevin Coyle's double "A" gap (between the center and guard on either side) blitzing system.
Stacking and shedding (getting underneath a blocker's pads then throwing him to the side using the leverage) is a huge part of a MLB's game. However, using the mind is an integral part of being an MLB in the NFL and is what separates the goods from the greats.
The MLB position is like the quarterback of the defense, which means he needs diagnose the offense's formation, communicate what he sees to the rest of the defense and line everyone up appropriately.
This is the area where Misi, known as one of the more quiet players on the team, will have to step up. Ellerbe, on top of his well-mentioned struggles, had trouble with this aspect of his new job last season.
So far through OTAs Misi has been vocal and has been doing everything right, but it's only OTAs. We need to see how Misi reacts when the pads come on in training camp and the live bullets are flying.
The biggest concern with Misi right now is his ability to lead this defense and play the mental game acutely, but if Misi manages to do this just as well as Ellerbe (which wasn't very good) and provides the physicality and sure tackling that he has in his career then the transition will be successful for all parties involved.
Philbin hasn't committed to Misi at MLB just yet, saying only that the Dolphins are still experimenting. Nonetheless, three weeks of tests tells us that this experiment may be working it's way into solidarity.
Misi is the Dolphins' best option at MLB right now. That may be a damning sentence, but I believe this transition will be relatively smooth for Misi. He's one of the first players in the building and one of the last to leave. He studies at home to acclimate himself with the checks and responsibilities of the position. He is working hard to make this position switch work, and for that he will be rewarded on the field.