Miami Dolphins position breakdown: Defensive line
How Much Will The Shift To A 4-3 Scheme Impact The Dolphins' Defensive Front?
Miami Dolphins Position Breakdown: Defensive Line
Buffalo quarterback Tyler Thigpen goes down in the fourth quarter as Miami's Cameron Wake, left, and Jared Odrick apply the pressure. (Robert Duyos, Sun Sentinel / November 20, 2011)
That is the case with the Miami Dolphins' shift from a 3-4 base defense, which the team has been since 2005, to a 4-3 scheme.
If the defensive line is Miami's strength, and the team's deepest unit, why not have more of them on the field at the same time? Makes sense.
Paul Soliai and Randy Starks, two former Pro Bowlers, have the potential to become the NFL's most forceful defensive tackle duo. And Cameron Wake, another former Pro Bowler, and Jared Odrick, the Dolphins 2010 first-round pick, each have the potential to produce double-digit sack seasons.
DEFENSIVE LINE: Starters – LDE Cameron Wake, NT Paul Soliai, DT Randy Starks, DE Jared Odrick. Backups: DE Olivier Vernon, DT Tony McDaniel, DT Kheeston Randall, NT Isaako Aautui, DT Ryan Baker, DE Derrick Shelby, DT Chas Alecxih, DE Jarrell Root
BY THE NUMBER: The Dolphins defense held opponents to a 3.7 yards per carry average, which was third best in the NFL, with Baltimore and San Francisco tied for the lead with 3.5 yards per carry. Miami's opponents had five runs of 20 or more yards last season. Only the Ravens and 49ers allowed fewer.
ON THE HOTSEAT: Baker has been with the Dolphins for the majority of the past three seasons, working his way up from the practice squad. He's a dynamic person, a great locker room guy, and a solid special teams contributor. But the Dolphins need to see more from this Purdue product to justify not investing in someone younger.
THE KEEPERS: Wake, Soliai, Starks, Odrick, Vernon and McDaniel are locks, unless the Dolphins move one in a trade. This is Miami's deepest unit, so it is possible one of these pieces could be moved for another asset during the exhibition season the way Miami traded Greg Camarillo for Benny Sapp before the 2010 season. The Dolphins will keep at least seven defensive linemen on the 53 man roster, and possibly stash one or two on the practice squad.
BREAKDOWN: The biggest move the Dolphins made in free agency this offseason was retaining Soliai, who will anchor Miami’s defense as it transitions to a 4-3 base. Soliai has started 26 of 32 games the past two seasons, totaling 66 tackles, four pass deflections and two sacks in that span. But Soliai's game isn't about stats. It is about clogging up the front-line, and consistently occupying two blockers. Last year Soliai helped the defense finish third in the NFL against the run.
Starks moves inside, returning to the position he played early in his career as a Tennessee Titan. He's tallied 28 sacks during his eight NFL seasons, and could blossom in his new role. Odrick, who contributed 22 tackles and six sacks last season, replace Kendall Langford, who signed with the St. Louis Rams as a free agent. That foursome gives the Dolphins a starting defensive line that averages 303 pounds.
Vernon, a former University of Miami standout the Dolphins selected in the third-round, will serve as the team’s pass rushing specialist, filling Jason Taylor's role as the defender who comes on the field during obvious passing downs. Paired with Wake that duo should help the defense generate more sacks than the 41 last year’s team managed.