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Yes that's right - we're close enough to training camp that it's time to break out our training camp primers, which are essentially designed to be discussion starters that highlight some of the main story lines facing the Miami Dolphins as they enter camp.
We'll start out the series by focusing in on perhaps the topic that has been beaten to death the most this offseason. Of course, you are probably wondering why I'm going to spend more time on this if it has already been over-killed. That's easy - it really is that important.
As we all know, the Dolphins will be replacing both of their starting outside linebackers. I don't want to beat a dead horse, but when the two players who tallied over one-third of your team's total sacks are no longer around, finding a way to recoup those sacks becomes priority number one.
It's not just about the sacks, though. The Dolphins struggled getting consistent pressure on the quarterback in 2009 despite their 44 sacks - which tied for third in the league last year. If you watched this team week in and week out, you know that there were too many times when the opposing quarterback had time to take the snap, drop back, make a sandwich, read the paper, and then complete a pass to an open receiver.
That's what the Dolphins can't let happen in 2010 - not when four of the team's first six games are against offense's that finished in the top 10 in passing last year.
When the Dolphins cut Porter and let Taylor walk, they not only let over one-third leave Miami - those two also represented a quarter of the team's 126 quarterback pressure in '09.
It goes beyond just the loss of Taylor and Porter. While I like the position switch from defensive end to nose tackle, Randy Starks accounted for seven sacks and 15 quarterback pressures in 2009. Those figures will obviously decrease with Randy's move to the nose.
Meanwhile, Akin Ayodele, for all his faults, was sixth on the team in quarterback pressures. But now he's in Denver.
With all this said, the Dolphins aren't without hope by any means. Karlos Dansby will be a huge upgrade over Ayodele in the middle of this defense. He can cover and he can rush the passer.
Rookie Jared Odrick will team up with third year veterans Kendall Langford and Phillip Merling to help replace the production of Starks at end. It's also expected that Randy will get some pass-rushing opportunities in Miami's nickel and dime defenses when Miami uses four down linemen.
Most of the scrutiny, of course, will be on the team's young, inexperienced outside linebackers. Cameron Wake has the tools to be an elite pass-rusher. Last year, Wake had 5.5 sacks and 20 quarterback pressures despite participating in about one-fifth of the snaps that Jason Taylor participated in. In fact, ProFootballFocus has Wake participating in 167 defensive snaps - of which Wake had 134 pass-rushing opportunities. In those opportunities, Wake applied pressure or sacked the opposing quarterback nearly 20% of the time.
Rookie Koa Misi, who has spent basically the entire offseason working as the starting strong side linebacker, will also be a key factor. The good news is that people seem to be encouraged with what Misi will become. One personnel director told the Miami Herald that "everybody thinks Misi could be an impact player."
Charlie Anderson is the other player who will see increased opportunities in 2010. He has been working as the starter on the weak side - for now - holding off Wake. And while many of you probably know I'm not the biggest Anderson fan around, he does deserve a fair shot. After all, he did have two sacks and six quarterback pressures in 67 pass-rush opportunities last year.
No - replacing two pass-rushers who are currently first and second in career sacks among active players won't be easy. But there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic heading into camp.
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