The Dolphins this season are transitioning their defense from the 3-4 that has dominated since Nick Saban took over in 2005 and lasted through Cam Cameron to the Parcellian Era.
While Miami may use the 3-4 at times this season, I think it's fair to believe they should be called a 4-3.
Yeah, that means Cameron Wake goes from OLB to DE. That means Paul Soliai is no longer exclusively a nose tackle. And the five-technique defensive ends are suddenly going to have to transition or play defensive tackle.
Meanwhile, the unit lost its two most tenured players -- Pass-rusher Jason Taylor to retirement and SS Yeremiah Bell to the waiver wire.
Not surprisingly, the Dolphins haven't exactly replaced either player with guaranteed upgrades. Yes, Olivier Vernon was drafted in the third round and is expected to help rush the passer. But will he deliver seven sacks to offset the seven Taylor contributed last year?
Yes, the club is expecting Reshad Jones and Chris Clemons to finally grow up and man the deep secondary. But which will take over the leadership duties that Bell filled the past few years. And can either finally start getting some interceptions for the Miami secondary that needs more turnovers?
Overall, however, the Miami defense seems talented on many levels. The defensive line got stronger because Wake is now with the unit and he's perhaps the team's best defensive player. Two of the three linebacker spots are manned by proven vets. There is a good combination of youth and experience at cornerback although the depth is a question.
Are we about to see the 2001 Baltimore Ravens?
Are we about to see the 2007 Miami defense?
God, I hope not.
We're going to see a unit that should be solid and relative good. The unit's relative strength:
Defensive line: Kendall Langford is gone after signing a $6 per year deal with somebodyorother. Why does that not worry me? Well, because Langford was a nice player but not a playmaker. He was a big body but not one that collected sacks, caused fumbles, or made tackles behind the line of scrimmage with any consistency. The Dolphins, meanwhile, still keep Randy Starks, who does make plays, they have Jared Odrick, who has shown promise and also has made plays, and they re-signed Paul Soliai who has been to a Pro Bowl game. Those three beefy men will all play and form a good foundation for an active front. Tony McDaniel, the world's tallest defensive tackle at 6-7, provides decent depth in that he can give the team 20-25 solid downs every week. Add Wake at defensive and you have some quarterback pressure. If Vernon is the player GM Jeff Ireland believes, then the Dolphins have something. If not, this club needs pass-rush help. Look for Odrick to work outside initially. Overall strength: 7 but possibly a 9 if either Vernon or Odrick can become good ends.
Linebackers: Karlos Dansby is good and when he's on he's very good. Kevin Burnett, quirky and all, is good and can rise to very good at times. Gary Guyton knows how to play and is a winner. Jamal Westerman seems more like a down lineman to me and, beyond that, more like a special teams guy. The big question is Koa Misi. Can the guy find a comfort in the 4-3 that he clearly could not find in the 3-4? This is a make-or-break year for Misi because his position demands he make some plays and he didn't do much of that last year. Rookie Josh Kaddu is obviously a project. Overall strength: 7.5.
Secondary: Vontae Davis played very well late last season after his, ahem, one-game suspension. He finished the season with four interceptions but that doesn't tell the whole story. He was physical. He was very good in coverage. He started to show the promise everyone expects. Maybe he's starting to get it. Sean Smith is fine, too. Did he finish with a burst? Not really, but he was more consistent throughout the year. These guys aren't kids anymore. This is Year Four for both players. No excuses anymore, fellas. Six-year veteran Richard Marshall comes to the team with a reputation for being solid. He has made plays in his career. He is the strongest candidate for work as the team's nickel cornerback. I already discussed the safety position above. It is a concern. A darkhorse that requires attention is Jimmy Wilson. He's likely headed to the safety spot. He hits like a sledgehammer. He's fearless. Last year, he was probably over his head playing cornerback as a rookie. But I like his potenial. Overall strength: 6.