The Miami Dolphins have had a pretty solid defense the past few seasons, and 2012 was no exception.
Defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle's unit finished seventh in points allowed per game (20.0), 12th in yards allowed (356.8), seventh in sacks (42) and featured the NFL's stingiest red zone defense.
However, the Dolphins softened against the run (4.0 yards per carry allowed), which is a drop off compared to the unit's 3.7 and 3.6 yards per carry average the previous two seasons.
And Miami's secondary was consistently unreliable in 2012, allowing 60 passes of 20-plus yards. Only three teams - the Patriots, Buccaneers and Saints - were worse last season. The Dolphins also gave up 3,974 passing yards, which was the sixth highest total allowed last season.
The unit's shortcomings outline where the Dolphins intend to tighten the screw this offseason.
According to General Manager Jeff Ireland the offseason goals are for Miami's defense to apply more pressure to opposing quarterbacks, and create more turnovers.
DEFENSE (28 players presently signed by the Dolphins)
Breakdown: Wake, a two-time Pro Bowler, is the only proven pass rusher, and the fact he works from the right side means Miami's wasting opportunities to hunt the quarterback on the left. Odrick, who is 300 pounds, is a 3-4 defensive end who helps Miami excel at stopping the run. But the former first-round pick has only contributed 11 sacks in his two healthy seasons. Vernon is a talented athlete, but a player lacking polish. This former Hurricanes standout, who contributed 3.5 sacks last season, needs to be coached up to be counted on. But potential is there. Shelby, an undrafted free agent from 2012, had a strong training camp, earning a roster spot, but disappeared in games.
What now: The Dolphins, which managed 42 sacks (3 per game) last season, finished seventh in the NFL in sack production. But many of those sacks came in bunches, and the defensive line's struggles applying pressure to quarterbacks stressed the secondary, forcing the cornerbacks to cover longer than necessary. The easiest way for Miami to improve the defense is by tightening the screws on the quarterbacks. An aged veteran pass rusher like Dwight Freeney or John Abraham could help, but selecting a 4-3 edge rusher with quick twitch skills - LSU's Sam Montgomery, BYU's Ezekial Ansah, Texas A&M's Damontre Moore, FSU's Tank Carradine - is ideal. However, that position isn't very deep in the 2013 draft so using an early pick on a pass rusher might be necessary.
Breakdown: Soliai and Starks are both Pro Bowl caliber defensive tackles who collectively make Miami's interior line stout against the run. However, they are both approaching 30 and entering the final year of their contracts. Martin was signed to a two-year deal to replace Tony McDaniel, but his ProfootballFocus.com rating is mediocre based on his two season's as a starting defensive end in San Diego's 3-4 scheme. Moving him to a 4-3 defensive tackle could be beneficial. Randall and Alecxih haven't proven much in their one NFL season.
What now: Unless Miami extends Soliai and Starks the future at this position isn't on solid footing. The Dolphins lack depth, and top end talent on the interior of the defense line unless Odrick in moved inside full-time, which is an option this year or next. However, it would be wise for the Dolphins to use one of the team's 11 draft picks to add another 300-pounder. There are some decent defensive tackles in this draft, and position coach Kacy Rodgers is one of the NFL's best when it comes to refining talented big men.
Breakdown: The Dolphins got younger and more athletic swapping out Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett for Ellerbe and Wheeler. However, coverage of tight ends and tailbacks could become a concern moving forward because Wheeler is the only linebacker presently on the team who didn't struggle in that area last season. Misi has decent coverage skills, but was abused by tight ends last season. Depth is an issue at this position, and this unit usually impacts special teams.
What now: Misi, a former second-round pick, is entering the final year of his contract, and everyone but Ellerbe and Wheeler are NFL journeymen struggling to hold onto their jobs. Then again, so were Ellerbe and Wheeler last season, which means someone like Kaddu or Freeny can emerge, blossom. But depth is an issue, and one that should be addressed by adding a couple linebackers available late in the draft. Third day prospects like Florida's Jon Bostic, Alabama's Nico Johnson, Florida A&M's Brandon Hepburn, Missouri's Zaviar Gooden and Howard's Keith Pough fit what the Dolphins might be looking for, and could help on special teams.
Breakdown: The Dolphins have decent depth at cornerback with the addition of Grimes, and some intriguing projects in Stanford, Posey and Presley to work with. But the position lacks a cornerback who can cover the Brandon Marshall, Calvin Johnson types of the league. Carroll, the tallest member of this unit, has struggled in his two-years as a fill-in starter. Marshall and Patterson are both more suited to play the nickel spot than on the boundary. The Dolphins need to have three reliable cornerback, and the unit must get younger, taller and more athletic.
What now: Before signing Grimes, who is still rehabbing an Achilles injury, to a one-year deal Saturday morning the Dolphins planned to double-down on the position in the draft, selecting two cornerback early just like the team did in 2009 when Miami took Vontae Davis and Sean Smith in the same draft class. FSU cornerback Xavier Rhodes and Washington's Desmond Trufant are two realistic options for the No. 12 pick. Miami would have to trade up for Alabama's Dee Milliner. Houston's D.J. Hayden, LSU's Tharold Simon, North Carolina State's David Amerson, Boise State's Jamar Taylor, Oregon State's Jordan Poyer, Mississippi State's Darius Slay and Johnthan Banks, and Connecticut's Blidi Wreh-Wilson and Dwayne Gratz are option in the later rounds, so the Dolphins might not be in a rush to take a cornerback on day one. Cornerback is one of this draft's few deep positions by Ireland's standards.
Breakdown: This will be the second time in a decade the Dolphins will have the same starting safety duo if Clemons holds off his competitors and retains the starting spot opposite Jones, who had a breakout season last year. The Dolphins would like their starting safeties to produce more turnovers, and game-changing plays, so it is not wise to predict what happens in the back-end of the secondary this offseason. Wilson, a rookie sensation in 2011, could rebound from a sophomore slump. And McCray, an undrafted rookie out of Arkansas State, flashed plenty in his one week of practice during training camp before breaking his foot and being placed on injured reserve.
What now: Since Clemons only signed a one-year deal, and Jones is playing on the final year of his rookie contract, don't be surprised if the Dolphins address this position early in the draft. Miami's coaches are looking for a ball-hawk who can cover a decent amount of range. Clemons gets the job done, but he's not very instinctive. Texas' Kenny Vaccaro, Florida's Matt Elam, FIU's Jonathan Cyprien, LSU's Eric Reid and Fresno State's Phillip Thomas are the top shelf safeties in this draft. At least three safeties will be taken in the draft's first two rounds. The earliest the Dolphins have addressed that position in the draft since 2007 was the fifth round. The last time the Dolphins used a first-round pick on a safety, which isn't viewed as a premiere position, the franchise ended up with Jason Allen.
Breakdown: Carpenter had an average season in 2012 before going on injured reserve with a groin injury. Fields has a breakout year, one that was worthy of Pro Bowl recognition.
What now: Carpenter will likely have competition in camp, and will need to perform to keep his job considering a rookie would earn less than 1/5th his salary, which is $2.7 million in 2013. FSU's Dustin Hopkins, Florida's Caleb Sturgis and Nebraska's Brett Maher are the kickers with draft grades. But there are a couple others who could be decent rookie free agent signings, which is exactly how the Dolphins found Carpenter back in 2008.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun