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Training Camp Positional Preview: Defensive Line

We are now beginning our look at the defense and will start with the defensive line. I'm not separating ends from tackles in the preview because, with the 3-4 defense, things get kind of fuzzy. Also, I need to clarify something. Though Jason Taylor is an OLB in the 3-4 scheme, he will be called a DE for the purpose of this preview. Oh, and one more disclaimer. This preview went a little long, so to view all of it, you'll need to click the "Read More" link at the end of the post. I hate doing that, but there was no way around it.

Jason Taylor: 6'6, 255, 11th year
I don't think there's much more that can be said about JT that hasn't already been said during his stellar career. At the age of 32, Taylor is coming off of his best season ever, one that was capped by winning the 2006 Defensive Player of the Year award. Some people wondered how Taylor was going to do playing in a hybrid defense, and he's done nothing but excel.

On the football field, there is basically nothing he can't do at his position. He's a premier pass rusher. He can stuff the run. He can chase down ball carriers from behind with his speed. And he can create turnovers at any moment. Really, I could go on and on about Taylor, but I guess I'll hold back and just say this: with 1 or 2 more GREAT years, Taylor will be punching his ticket to Canton.

Vonnie Holliday: 6'5, 288, 10th year
I'm very glad the Dolphins decided to bring Holliday back, though 4 years is a bit long for a guy his age. But he is a perfect fit as a DE/DT in Dom Capers' defense. What I mean by a DE/DT is that he plays the DE spot in the team goes to the 3-4, but when there are 4 down lineman, Holliday shifts to the DT spot. His combination of size and speed allows him to do this and I don't think he would have been easily replaced if the Dolphins decided not to bring him back.

Holliday is coming off a season where he tied his career high for solo tackles with 46 and had his second highest total tackle season with 66. He also notched his second best sack total with 7. He's also been as healthy as we all could have hoped, missing no games in two seasons with the Dolphins. This year, I expect the same kind of numbers as last year, with a possible dip in his sack total because of the simple fact that JT or Joey Porter might get to the QB first.

Matt Roth: 6'4, 272, 3rd year
Roth is entering his 3rd season and will finally get a chance to show what he can do. He spent his first two years behind Kevin Carter on the depth chart, but still had 3.5 sacks in limited action in 2006. This year, Roth will be asked to take another step forward and start at DE.

As a second round pick out of Iowa, Roth was thought to be a guy with a non-stop motor and a great work ethic. He hasn't disappointed. And what many Dolphin fans were surprised to see is how quick he was for a man of his strength. Roth has the ability to use his strength to bullrush or to use his quickness to get to the quarterback, which means he should be able to succeed as the full-time starter. It'll just be interesting to see how he progresses through camp.

Keith Traylor: 6'2, 340, 16th year
Traylor is coming off arguably the best season of his long career. In 2006, he had 35 tackles, which is the 2nd highest total of his career, and 4 sacks, which is a career high. Traylor is a prototypical 3-4 NT and really thrived last season at taking on blockers to free up Miami's talented linebackers. He's coming off of a knee injury, but it's expected that he'll be ready to go. He'll be 38 by the time the season starts, so he'll need to be spelled more often than usual. But another productive year from Keith is still highly likely.

Kevin Vickerson: 6'5, 305, 3rd year
Vickerson is the guy who will undoubtedly benefit the most from the release of DT Fred Evans. Vickerson is coming off of an NFL Europa season in which he played very well and was named to the All-NFL Europa Team. He's a big, strong guy who just needs to show improved technique.

His other problem besides technique is his lack of experience. He missed all of the 2005 season with a knee injury, though he did accumulate 5 tackles and a sack preseason action. Then he was inactive for all of 2006 before being allocated to NFLE. But like I said, following the release of Evans, Vickerson has an improved chance at making the squad, meaning this upcoming camp is going to be the biggest one of his career. Keep an eye on Vickerson all camp long.

Rodrique Wright: 6'5, 300, 2nd year
Wright was a 7th round pick out of Texas in 2006 but missed all of the season with a shoulder injury. This injury also kept Wright from being a first day draft pick. Somehow, he fell all the way round 7 where the Dolphins nabbed him. And what a steal this could turn out to be.

The veterans and the media have all raved about Wright during the mini-camp sessions. He has good size and will be a fun guy to keep an eye on in camp. He's got the makings to be a very solid player at this level once he gains experience.

Chase Page: 6'4, 295, 2nd year
Page spent most of last year on the Chargers' practice squad. He was then signed off of SD's practice squad by the Dolphins on December 21. He then was inactive for the final 2 games of Miami's season.

Page is an interesting player. He's big and strong and hasa good work ethic. What was questioned when he came out of North Carolina was his technique and his quickness. During camp, it'll be interesting to watch how he progresses, as it's possible that the coaching staff likes this kid based on the work he got in mini-camp. Miami is a little thin on the DL and will likely look to keep an extra DT because of how old Traylor is, so this kid is worth monitoring throughout camp.

Paul Soliai: 6'4, 344, rookie
Soliai was drafted with one purpose in mind: to be the team's future NT once Keith Traylor is finished. And he has the size and strength to do it. He's very athletic and has good range. Very rarely will Soliai lose at the point of attack, which is what a Dom Capers defense needs in its NT.

He isn't without negatives, though, and is why he fell to the 4th round. He's extremely raw and has only played the position for a few years. So he's going to need time to really grow and develop into a starter. Luckily, this year he'll be able to learn as Traylor's primary backup. Watch him in camp to see if he's as good as his size would lead us all to believe.

Abraham Wright: 6'3, 245, rookie
If I'm going to put Jason Taylor as a DE for the sake of this preview, then Wright has to be listed here as well. Why? Because the way things are looking after mini-camps, Wright is going to fill the void left by David Bowens as Taylor's primary backup, playing both the DE and OLB spot. Wright played DE in college, but showed the speed and athleticism needed to be an effective outside linebacker. In mini-camp, he was playing the same OLB/DE hybrid position that JT plays, which is why I must include him in this section.

Wright has the makings to be an absolute steal as a 7th round pick. He's got good size and speed and is very athletic. And the media raved about how good Wright looked in mini-camp. There was one plau in particular that I remember reading about where he was in the backfield sacking the QB before the QB ever finished his drop. Wright will be a fun player to watch as training camp unfolds.

Mkristo Bruce: 6'6, 260, rookie
Bruce will also be an interesting player to watch because of the fact that Miami is thin on DEs and Bruce has a ton of upside. He was signed as an undrafted free agent this past offseason out of Washington State, where he tallied 21 sacks and 31 tackles for loss in his final 2 seasons. He's a player who is fiery and a good leader. Like Matt Roth, he has a non-stop motor and is a hard worker. And for a 6'6 guy, he's mobile and can shed blockers effectively.

But, again, he's not without negatives. First off, his timed speed was poor (running a 5.09 40). Scouts believe that he needs to get bigger, but that he has a frame that is conducive to that. The other knock is that he grew his stats against sub-par opponents. But, again, with a good camp, he could very well surprise people and make the squad.

Steve Fifita: 6'0, 312, 2nd year
Marquay Love: 6'0, 307, rookie
Both of these guys are likely to be camp fodders. Fifita spent the Spring in NFL Europa but failed to really impress. Neither of these 2 guys have the size needed to be a good fit in Campers' defense and will likely be among the first few cuts made.

My Take
The defensive line is going to be a fun position to keep tabs on all camp long. There are battles to watch play out and players to watch progress. All in all, this was one of the hardest positions to predict for my predicted depth chart and was the most confusing to try and classify in terms of who plays what position, but I gave it a shot.

Predicted Depth Chart

1st Team 2nd Team 3rd Team
DE Matt Roth Mkristo Bruce
NT Keith Traylor Paul Soliai Kevin Vickerson
DT/DE Vonnie Holliday Rodrique Wright Chase Page
DE/OLB Jason Taylor Abe Wright