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Talking Phillip Merling

One guy we haven't really touched on yet is Clemson defensive end Phillip Merling, Miami's selection with the 32nd overall pick.  But I did want to make sure we talked about him because he really was a steal for the Dolphins at #32 overall.  He's a player who was thought to be a mid 1st round pick, but fell likely due to the recent hernia surgery he went through.  Oh, and speaking of the surgery and his recovery, there was a report  I heard on NFL Network that said if Sunday was a gameday, Merling would be listed as "probable."  So, clearly, his injury isn't a serious issue anymore.

Merling comes to the Dolphins at 6'4, 275, and as an absolute stud against the run.  Below is what NFL Draft Countdown has to say about Merling:

Terrific size and bulk with long arms...Great quickness...Has a non-stop motor...Is very strong and powerful...Plays with a nasty demeanor...Excellent range and he is relentless in pursuit...Natural pass rusher with a variety of moves...Can take on multiple blockers and shed the double team...Does a nice job versus the run...Has good instincts & awareness...Reliable tackler...Solid technician...Does a nice job in space...Extremely versatile...Can play a number of positions in different schemes.

May lack elite athleticism...Won't scare anyone off the edge...Does not have great timed speed and isn't real explosive...Might be a bit of a 'tweener...He can be too aggressive at times...Will get pushed back...Needs to work on his hand use...Has to work on keeping his shoulders square...Intelligence could be an issue with him.

That's kind of a mixed bag of pros and cons, but clearly was a terrific value pick at #32.

Now a lot of people are going to ask if Merling can possibly play the outside linebacker position in a 3-4 defense.  And to talk about that, and tell us a little more about Merling, I enlisted the help of Ed McGranahan, who covers the Clemson Tigers for The Greenville News.  Below is what McGranahan says about Merling:

Merling is not an outside linebacker in a 3-4, but he could be a good DE in that scheme. Some scouts think he could move inside in a 4-3 because of his size, strength and quickness.

He was at 288 for his workout last week, about 10 pounds over playing weight and though he was a bit winded it was largely due to his inactivity.

Merling was a tight end and a basketball player in high school, attesting to his athleticism. He works hard and has the skill to be a good NFL player. He'll be a good citizen and he has a quiet charm, but he does need to be loved, which sometimes doesn't play with the pro coaches, as you know.

His uncle was his position coach the last two years, but [Clemson DL coach] Chris Rumph didn't cut Merling any slack because the competition was good enough to push him.

Alright.  So a guy who covers Clemson football for a living and has seen Merling play more than (most likely) all of us believes that Merling is not an outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense.  That's what I originally thought, but when you look at size along, you can see some comparisons between Merling and Cowboys' LB Greg Ellis.

Regardless, it seems more and more like Merling is not here to be an eventual replacement to Jason Taylor or Joey Porter at outside linebacker.  And I didn't think he would be considering he isn't really fast enough to.  He's more of a run-stuffer, which is great because that's something the Dolphins desperately need.  In fact, most draft analysts believed that Merling was the best run-stopping defensive end in this entire draft, making him an ideal fit for a 3-4 defense. 

However, his playing weight is in the 275-280, which is doable in a 3-4 defense as an end, but not ideal.  So I did follow up with Ed McGranahan and ask him about Merling's ability to put on an additional 5 to 10 pounds of muscle without hindering his speed, quickness, and athleticism.  McGranahan's reply was that "ten more pounds of muscle should be easy.  He's a nice looking kid."  Knowing that, I'm more confident than ever that Merling was brought in to be Vonnie Holliday's or Matt Roth's eventual replacement along the line.

I get the feeling that the more knowledgeable Dolphin fans (like the ones who frequent this site) are really going to love watching Merling play and will really appreciate all that he will do for this defense.  More often than not, when one of our linebackers make a big play, it's going to be Merling who help set that big play up by remaining stout at the line of scrimmage and taking on blockers.

No more "swiss cheese" run defense in Miami anymore.  Not with two massive, young ends like Merling and Kendall Langford in town!