As we are a couple days into training camp and the team is getting back in the swing of things I have taken a step back to look at this Dolphins roster as it is configured today. And to me I think the issues on defense for this team are much bigger than any of us thought back in March and April during free agency and the draft.
Let’s start with the defensive line for the Fins. To me this is the strongest unit on the defensive side of the ball for Miami as we sit today but this unit is a total boom or bust. If Mario Williams shows last year his lack of production was because he didn’t fit in Rex Ryan’s scheme and can resort to his typical old form, that’s a boom. If Cam Wake can come back healthy, that is a boom. If Ndamukong Suh shows that his year last year was hampered by a poor defensive system he didn’t fit in, that’s a boom. But lets be honest, Wake might not come back healthy, Mario Williams might have quit on the Bills last year and lost his competitive spirit as a player, and maybe Suh can’t find the success in Miami that he had in Detroit. Then this unit is a total Bust. To me its a 60/40 split as of today. I think there is a 60% chance this unit is a boom in the 2016 season and the defensive line does play well, but it would not shock me if this unit does fail. A name to keep an eye on here this year; Chris Jones. I am very high on Jones and I wouldn’t be shocked if at some point this season Jones is starting at DT next to Suh and to see Jones pass both Earl Mitchell and Jordan Phillips on the depth chart.
The linebackers to me is a unit that while they are far from good, they are a bit improved over last season if they can stay healthy. The biggest issue with this group is health and being able to stay on the field. Koa Misi who every year seems like he is on the injury report every week for every game must stay on the field. When healthy Misi is a solid and above average outside linebacker. Kiko Alonso had a fantastic rookie season but is coming off some major injuries and hasn’t had much NFL success in a few years. Dion Jordan, yeah we all know the story there. Jelani Jenkins is a nice role player but not someone who is very reliable nor is a big-time talent in the NFL picture. While this unit lacks quality playmakers and guys who are “impact players” I do think this unit can hold its own if the defensive line plays well and is that “boom” I spoke about above. If the defensive line is solid, this unit will look better than they are. If the defensive line is a “bust” then this linebacker unit will get exposed and look poor. Player to watch out of the linebackers; Neville Hewitt. I think Hewitt may be the best linebacker on the roster (yes better than Kiko and Koa) when all is said and done. I wouldn’t be shocked if Hewitt is starting Week 1 over Jenkins either. If Hewitt progresses like he can his ceiling is higher than any linebacker on this roster. If Hewitt improves and does get better, if Kiko and Koa stay healthy, if Jordan actually isn’t suspended and plays, this linebacker group has potential. Lot’s of “If’s” a real lot of “If’s” actually but the potential is there at linebacker for this unit to play well.
On to the secondary, and well there is no nice way to say this but this unit is a dumpster fire. Let me make one thing clear; the safety position is fine. Reshad Jones is probably the best safety in the NFL today and I think Isa Abdul-Quddus is a very good player. With Michael Thomas backing them up, the safety position is fine in my book. The corners, that’s another story. Byron Maxwell won’t kill you on the field. I think he got too much of a bad rap last season in Philly and he is returning to a “defensive scheme” that fits his style of play better. After that though, yikes its scary. Second round pick Xavier Howard will miss most if not all of training camp. Pretty much like Devante Parker did last year and as we saw with Parker a rookie missing camp is a death nail. I wouldn’t look for Howard to play or produce much early this season. I wouldn’t expect to see anything out of him until late October or November. Tony Lippett is a converted WR who is learning the position of CB. I mean he is a total project and it looks like he is going to be starting come Week 1. I have little faith with him on the field in games that matter. Bobby McCain is an undersized CB who is ok in the nickel. Key word there being “ok” as he didn’t show much last year when he played. I’m not sure Lippet or McCain would make most other NFL teams and Miami is going to have them be starting playing significant snaps? Very scary! And regarding cornerback depth there is none. Behind the names I have mentioned are a Who’s Who of WHO?! Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Chimdi Chekwa, Rashaan Melvin, Jordan Lucas are back-ups to this unit and that is an ugly picture. And I know fans are wondering if the team will go out and sign a vet who is on the market still. The issue with that is, who is on the market and there is a reason those guys are on the market. Chris Culliver is coming off some major injuries and Leon Hall was banged up last year and is on the wrong side of 30. Will the Dolphins make a move for one of those two players in the coming days/weeks; maybe but I wouldn’t hold my breath! I can’t even give you a guy to watch on this unit really as every CB not named Maxwell is a total unknown and is unproven. My advice for Dolphins fans when it comes to the CB position….pray!
This defense is clearly a work in progress and there is a lot of work to be done. Best case scenario is the Front 7 is stout and plays solid and helps the secondary look better than it maybe is. Worst scenario is the Front 7 is past their prime and the secondary gets exposed badly. It will be interesting to follow and see how it plays out.