After a disappointing finish to 2009, the Dolphins went into this past offseason with a lot of needs. It quickly became clear that this front office viewed the inside linebacker position as one of the major positions of need. Upgrading the athleticism of that group was something that the Dolphins stressed all offseason long - from signing the top available free agent linebacker to acquiring rookie and veteran inside linebackers on draft weekend.
What I'm not going to do below is talk about possible battle for the starting spot along side Karlos Dansby. We already spoke at length about Tim Dobbins and the possibility he might unseat Channing Crowder as a starter. And we'll have plenty of time during training camp to get into that competition again.
Instead, let's look at which guys are on the roster bubble as training camp nears.
Locks: Karlos Dansby, ,
Bubble: , ,
Karlos Dansby comes to Miami as the new centerpiece of the defense that Mike Nolan will install. He's the kind of fast, athletic, play-making inside linebacker this team has been lacking.
Tim Dobbins was acquired as part of the draft day trade with San Diego and recently signed a two year contract extension with the Dolphins. He was an occasional starter and core special teams player with the Chargers and will likely play a similar role in Miami.
This is because Channing Crowder, the incumbent starter, is a favorite of Tony Sparano. It will likely take a lot for Dobbins to take away Channing's starting spot. But if Crowder is slowed as he continues to recover from his foot injury, Dobbins might be able to make a push.
But here is when the roster bubble gets interesting. The Dolphins will likely keep four inside linebackers, meaning there's probably only one spot on the 53 man roster for the following three young 'backers.
Rookie A.J. Edds, a fourth round pick, is probably the early favorite to win the final spot. His athleticism, intelligence, and coverage ability is what impressed the Dolphins, prompting Jeff Ireland to say right away that Edds would likely have an immediate role as a nickel linebacker. So Edds is the front-runner.
Don't rule out 2009 draft pick J.D. Folsom. Folsom is undersized but is another smart, athletic linebacker. He spent all but two weeks on the team's practice squad last season, playing in a reserve role (mostly on special teams) twice in '09. I think it'll be a challenge for Folsom to beat out Edds simply because they are similar players - with Edds being the bigger investment and more talented player. A practice squad spot, though, remains a possibility for the second year kid from Weber State.
Like his college days, rookie seventh round pick Austin Spitler has a tough road ahead if he wants to earn some playing time - or even a roster spot. He was stuck behind All-American James Laurinaitis for most of his time there. And now he has veterans like Dansby and Crowder and a more highly-touted rookie (Edds) in front of him. So earning a roster spot will not be easy for Spitler.
So what do you think? Is Edds the likely fourth inside linebacker? Or will somebody else steal that final spot?