The offensive line, the offensive line, the offensive line. That's all you ever hear about from the media and fans when it comes to the Miami Dolphins. While the offensive line was terrible in 2013, it has now been completely retooled this offseason, with a good blend of youth and experience.
This is why Miami's linebackers are now under the microscope in 2014. Ex-general manager Jeff Ireland attempted to upgrade the unit in a big way by making a splash in free agency during the 2013 offseason. Dannell Ellerbe, who at the time was heir apparent to Ray Lewis in Baltimore, and Philip Wheeler, a player who broke out with the Oakland Raiders in 2012 and was regarded as a one of the better blitzing linebackers in the NFL, grossly underperformed.
When a team throws that much dollar on two players, you not only expect improvement, but you want to see the position be one of the best on the team; the strong point. Sadly for the Dolphins, it wasn't to be.
However, that's not to suggest the same players can't perform in 2014. During the organized team activities, it's apparent the coaches are willing to experiment by moving last year's "Sam" linebacker, Koa Misi, to the "Mike" position, while last year's "Mike" linebacker, Dannell Ellerbe, will move to the "Sam" position. Time will tell if the move will work out, and Misi will have to prove the doubters wrong that he does have the instincts to play on the inside.
But the move could prove huge for Dannelle Ellerbe. Too much has been invested in him to cut him loose in 2014. In his final season with Baltimore, Ellerbe produced 92 combined tackles, 69 total tackles, 23 assisted tackles, 4.5 sacks and 2 forced fumbles. But it doesn't stop there. Dannelle Ellerbe is a quality run blocker. His only limitation (and a big one at that, I may add) appears to be in pass defense, where he's not great at breaking down in space to make tackles and he has trouble with intermediate seam throws, allowing a receiver to swoosh past him effortlessly. That's a problem in todays passing league, but hopefully that can be masked if he moves back outside.
As for Philip Wheeler? He was one of the worst, if not the worst, 4-3 outside linebacker in the NFL last season. To get any sort of success from Wheeler in 2014, the team must use him in certain situations where he can play to his strengths by blitzing the opposition. The team must find a way to rotate him with Jelani Jenkins, who himself is very good in coverage, and potentially rookie Jordan Tripp, a tackling machine who displays great speed, instincts and ‘coachability'. Unfortunately, you know when you're in trouble when it is suggested a fifth round draft pick has the potential to make an impact on day one of the regular season, but that's the situation the team find themselves in.
The rest - Jason Trusnik, Jonathan Freeny, and co. - are realistically in the team to make up the numbers and play in the special teams unit.
It's going to be an interesting year at the linebacker position in 2014. Lets hope they pull through - Miami's season depends on it.
Do you think Miami's under-fire linebackers will produce in 2014? Lets hear your views!
Alex Parish is an Associate Editor at The Phinsider. Be sure to follow me on Twitter @AlexParish89.