Training Camp Preview Part 4: The Defensive Line

When the Dolphins signed video game legend, Donkey Kong Suh, I made the impulsive claim that Miami sported one of the best defensive lines in the history of the game. Suh will go down as a top five interior lineman when it’s all over, Cam Wake had been a top five pass rusher for a half of a decade and Olivier Vernon was coming into his own as a pro-bowl caliber player. Suh was great, Wake got hurt, and Vernon remained an above average player who racked up almost as many personal fouls as he did sacks.

Moving into 2016, there are some new parts, better depth and a disconcerting amount of age amongst the group. This could be a year of transition for this unit and the team needs to start addressing some young pass rusher as soon as yesterday. At the very least, there is some vinegar with these guys that could make for an entertaining watch.

Right End: #94 Mario Williams –

Mario Williams expressed his displeasure with his role in Rex Ryan’s defense last season and earned a one way ticket from beautiful Buffalo to frigid Miami. An explicable idea to put Williams in coverage when he’s a pure pass rusher was the cause for the disdain, and Williams will be inserting into his more familiar role with the Dolphins. He’s going to be a high snap count, three down type of player. We could see him in a lot of wide 9 alignments where he plays the run on his way to the pass. Outside contain will be his responsibility, funneling linebackers inside to shoot that C gap that is largely left void by the wide technique. I expect somewhat of a resurgence from the former number one pick in the draft. When you doubt a guy with that kind of competitiveness, it creates a monster – especially in those two games against Buffalo. Williams could also see some time on the left side of the line.

Nose Tackle: #97 Jordan Phillips –

This position is responsible for all the dirty work. Phillips won’t show up a lot on the stat sheet, but his ability to anchor and eat up blockers in the middle is going to be vital for what the rest of the line and the interior linebackers are able to do. The team has worked with Phillips managing his weight and believe that his pass rush skills can still be utilized if he’s closer to 320 pounds rather than 330.

Three Technique Tackle: #93 Ndamukong Suh –

An 80 percent snap taking, quarterback destroying menace of a man, Suh is the straw that’s going to stir this defense’s drink. In Detroit, he primarily lined up over the outside shoulder of the right guard and attacked downhill forcing the center to help and causing the left guard to crash block the nose tackle. He will impact games like he did last year, but expect him to pressure the quarterback even more.

Left End: #98 Jason Jones –

A lot of fans want to make a big deal out of the idea that Cameron Wake might not start but that’s not important. Base defense requires better run defending than what Wake has offered in recent years and Jason Jones has had success defending the run in this defense. Jones may start and only play half of the snaps, but that’s the way the NFL works these days – a league of match-ups. Jones can also kick inside as an interior nickel rusher on third down.

Pass Rush Specialist: #91 Cameron Wake –

Look at Trace Armstrong’s 2000 season with the Dolphins and apply it to Wake. I’m not saying Wake will notch 16.5 sacks and force seven fumbles but when he’s fresh, he’s awfully difficult to be stopped. He played a similar role in games five and six in 2016 against the Titans and Texans and registered six sacks. His speed rush has always been the best part of his game so getting him lined up off the edge in obvious passing downs gives us a real weapon.

In The Rotation: #50 Andre Branch –

Branch figures directly into the outside rotation and should see a healthy snap count. He’s one injury away from getting a starter’s size workload but, for now, he’ll spell guys like Jones and Williams. I don’t think he’ll see a ton of time in the obvious passing downs (3rd and long) but he could see full series as the five technique end when other players need a breather.

Upside Pass Rusher: #72 Cleyon Laing –

It’s difficult not to have a soft spot for a guy that went the Canadian Football League route. He’ll draw comparisons to Cam Wake for that, but Wake is a super human with determination and work ethic like we’ve never seen. He’s only 25 years old and chose the Dolphins over rival Jets and Patriots for the opportunity to play with Wake and Suh. He’s already one of my favorites on that merit alone.

Back At End: #58 Chris McCain –

On opening day 2014 Chris McCain endeared himself to all Dolphins fans. A critical third down sack of Tom Brady and a blocked punt that set up the ‘Phins offense inside the 10 yard line foreshadowed a bright future. Since that time, McCain has waffled back and forth between bulking up to play end and trimming down to play linebacker. He’s best suited with his hand in the dirt playing off the edge. Are you ready for that word again? McCain’s versatility gives him more value as he can be the sixth linebacker as well as a rotational end.

Last Man In: #52 Chris Jones –

Earning a ring with the Patriots last year playing the big game on a torn calf muscle says all I need to know about this guy’s value to a roster. He’s still young, obviously tough as hell, and plays a position the Dolphins desperately need some depth at. He was claimed off waivers so the staff and front office clearly coveted him.

Practice Squad: #62 Deandre Coleman –

Earning some snaps late last year after being promoted from the practice squad, Colman has an outside chance to make the roster. It would be nice to see him come into his own as an interior lineman because all the depth on this line is on the perimeter.

Camp Casualty: #90 Earl Mitchell –

Mitchell has been a train wreck since he started off his Dolphins career with a terrific three game stretch in 2014. Since then he’s frequently been on roller skates on run plays and a non-factor on passing downs. Cutting him would save $2.5 million against the cap and rid the team of a bad player.

Camp Casualty: #78 Terrance Fede –

It’s noteworthy when a seventh round pick lasts for three years with the team that drafted him, but Fede still hasn’t carved out any spectacular traits. He can step in, in a pinch and give adequate performance from the five technique end but he hasn’t shown any flashes of starter material.

Camp Casualty: #96 Farrington Huguenin –

The undrafted rookie from Kentucky has an outside shot of taking that last spot from Chris Jones because of his ability to play all along the defensive line. He has the frame to add some size and kick inside as a nickel rusher and play the three technique in base packages.

Camp Casualty: #73 Julius Warmsley –

Coming from the Seahawks practice squad, Warmsley is another big body with experience all across the line. The defensive line room in Seattle is a tough one to crack, and Miami’s isn’t much easier.

Camp Casualty: #69 Jordan Williams –

If you look up Jordan Williams on any of the team player page websites, he’s wearing a Jets jersey. That’s enough for me to cut him.

Suspended/I’m Over It: #95 Dion Jordan –

The amount of patience I have for a high paid athlete that has contributed close to nothing and chose to took the route of drugs and laziness is at a level less than zero. Good riddance, DJ.

This position is the biggest boom or bust group for the ‘Phins. The offensive line is the catalyst, the quarterback is where the team’s fate generally rests, but the defensive lineman could be the guys that push this team over the top. Conversely, it’s just as likely that Mario Williams and Cam Wake’s careers are behind them and this unit struggles. Ndamukong Suh is poised for a monster year and keep an eye on Jordan Phillips, he put together some quality tape late in the 2015 season.

Contact Travis Wingfield:

E-mail: traviswingfield@yahoo.com

Twitter: @twingfield2

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