SportsGeek

Miami Dolphins: Linebacker Shuffling

The Super Bowl is in the rearview.

One season over another just begun.

Teams have started making cuts and positioning themselves for free agency which officially begins March 9th.

This is the time of year that teams suddenly look quite a bit different. Good teams try to shore up their problem areas before the NFL Draft comes around to give themselves more flexibility when it comes time to welcome young college players.

The Miami Dolphins have already started by cutting Mario Williams and Earl Mitchell. They are also exploring the possibility of trading tackle Brandon Albert to the Jacksonville Jaguars.

The major problem area for this Dolphins roster is at linebacker. First year middle linebacker Kiko Alonso was a pleasant surprise.  The rest of the linebacking corps struggled through injury and inexperience. Veterans Koa Misi and Jelani Jenkins remain big question marks of whether they will be even on the team come training camp. There is a strong possibility that the team will add two(if not more) new linebackers through free agency and the draft.

That makes very good sense.

What does not make sense is the notion of replacing Alonso in the middle and moving him to outside linebacker.

Yes there is the chance that you find a gem in the middle and Kiko slides outside with no issues whatsoever. Only problem is-

Zach Thomas is not walking through that door.

Moves like this rarely go off like clockwork.

Do I need to remind you of the attempt to move Koa Misi to middle linebacker a few years ago?

Not only did the move not solve the middle linebacker issues but it also significantly weakened the play on the outside.

Alonso is solid in the middle. In his first year with the team. He may be even better in year two.

Spend your time(and money) finding players to play on the outside. Which is much easier than finding a great mike linebacker.

If it works do not fix it.

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Miami Dolphins: 1%

Playoffs.

For the first time since 2008 the Miami Dolphins are headed to the playoffs. After a 1-4 start rookie head coach Adam Gase has willed an injury plagued team to the post-season.

There should be nothing but joy in South Beach…Right?

Not quite. There is unrest in Dolphins nation. For all the challenges and obstacles this team has overcome the disrespect is real.

Often franchises will try to create the notion that it is ‘us vs them’ to motivate the team and their fans. It is an effective motivational tool. In the Dolphins case they do not need to create anything. Nation media seems to enjoy slapping them in the face. For some reason there are those who seek to invalidate the achievements of this season.

There is the NFL Power Index which in the final edition ranked the Denver Broncos ahead of the Dolphins even though the Dolphins made the postseason as a wild card ahead of the Broncos. Miami did not make the playoffs as the best team of a bad division(yes I’m looking at you Texans), they had to fight and claw ahead of the Broncos among other teams to make the postseason.  They had to sweep division rivals Buffalo and New York-teams who had owned Miami in recent years. They had to overcome injuries to Reshad Jones, Mike Pouncey, Koa Misi, Jelani Jenkins and most recently the loss of franchise quarterback Ryan Tannehill to finish 10-6.

Critics will say that the Dolphins only beat one winning team on their way to the playoffs(Pittsburgh). The fact is you play the games in front of you. The 1-4 start hurts that is undeniable. That said the six game winning streak should not be discounted no matter who it came against.

Six games that started with the dismantling of Sundays opponent the Pittsburgh Steelers 30-15. They followed that with a game against the Buffalo Bills who were coming off a four game winning streak. A Bills team that the Dolphins had struggled against in recent years. Some of the wins were impressive in others they simply survived. At the end of the day how you win is less important than the final score.

And so here we are in playoffs once again and Espn’s Football Power Index says that Miami has a 1% chance, one percent. Actually that is not true. That is a lie, a fabrication. They give the Dolphins a .2% chance of reaching the Super Bowl.

They have written them off so much so that several times this week when talking about the playoff teams they leave the Dolphins out of the conversation entirely. Earlier this week ESPN could not even be bothered to create a graphic for the team when talking about teams chances in the AFC.

Respect has to be earned. You would think with all that the Dolphins have overcome they would get just a little respect. Apparently there is yet another hurdle for this team to clear. And if they win today the media will surely write them off again.

1%.

I think I will take this one percent over the other 99.

#FinsUp

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Finding the next Linebackers

This is the dead zone. The part of the off-season where nothing, and I mean nothing, happens.

Players have participated in OTAs and practices. The new guys have gotten a taste of the playbook. Coaches have started learning some names. And then a month off. The last vacation before training camp and preseason.

I sat back and thought about what I truly wanted to see when the players returned. Ndamukong Suh? No I know what to expect. Ryan Tannehill working with his brand new receiving corps? Tempting but not at the tope of my list. No it was the linebackers. The linebacking corps is the biggest question for me.

Two spots are taken. Koa Misi and Jelani Jenkins will clearly be starting when the season arrives. The question is who will join them and who will man the middle. That is a question that has been unanswered for far too long.

There are a lot of names: Chris McCain, Jordan Tripp, Kelvin Sheppard, Spenser Paysinger are the veterans. They are joined my undrafted rookies Neville Hewitt, Mike Hull, Jeff Luc and Zach Vigil. Eight players for perhaps five spots.

This is where it gets interesting. It is fun to see who rises to the top. I feel confident that McCain and Tripp will be there at the end but who else makes it. Some may assume Sheppard and Paysinger have the advantage being veterans but the rookies were all expected to be late round draft picks. Mike Hull and Zach Vigil in particular were projected to be drafted as early as the fourth round. Either player could conceivably compete for the middle linebacker spot within two years.

The question may come to experience versus potential. That is what defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle will have to decide. That is what training camp is for. Time to see the cream rise to the top.

 

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