It seems that the focus of the Miami Dolphins’ off-season has been around their offense. The two big stories thus far have been the Dolphins drafting of Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill and the trade they made that shipped Brandon Marshall to the Chicago Bears for a pair of third round draft picks but their defense is what has me excited for the upcoming season. The Miami Dolphins defense that only lost Kendall Langford and the ageing Yeremiah Bell finished 3rd against the run in 2011 and ranked 6th when it came to points against. The Dolphins defense will be switching to a 4-3 scheme and will be run by former Cincinnati Bengal defensive backs’ coach Kevin Coyle.
The best move the Dolphins made this off-season which came as quite the surprise was locking up Paul Soliai to an extension. Soliai is a massive run-stopper who is in the prime of his career playing as well as any defensive tackle in the game. In their new defensive scheme the Dolphins have three pro-bowl players on their defensive line (Cameron Wake, Randy Starks, Paul Soliai) and another promising future first round selection in Jared Odrick that make their starting line. They drafted Olivier Vernon from the University of Miami in the 3rd round of the 2012 who should add a pass rushing presence opposite of Cameron Wake. Let’s not sleep on Tony McDaniel who has been a very good player for the Dolphins for three years running. The Miami Dolphins defensive line will be a tough task for opposing offensive line’s all year with Cameron Wake being a defensive player of the year candidate. A 4-3 scheme is very good fit for the group of linebackers that this team has as well. I expect the starters to be Koa Misi, Kevin Burnett, and Karlos Dansby with Josh Kaddu and Gary Guyton being the primary backups. Dansby is clearly the leader of the group but I expect Koa Misi to make a significant jump in 2012.
The Achilles heel of the Dolphins’ defense has their inability to make plays. Vontae Davis has been the best player here when healthy and has been a much better play-maker than advertised coming out of the University of Illinois. His 2009 draft counterpart Sean Smith has been a bit disappointing. Smith has the size and speed you want from a starting cornerback and while playing at Utah he demonstrated rare ball skills for a corner but this hasn’t translated to the NFL yet. I am not going to write off Smith just yet as the talent is there but he better feel the pressure because it’s on and the Miami Dolphins agree with me which is why the signed Richard Marshall to a big contract. The safety position lost it’s leader when the Dolphins cut Yeremiah Bell and at the first round of OTA’s the starting group was Reshad Jones and Chris Clemons but I have a gut feeling that Jimmy Wilson will have something to say when all is said and done.
The Dolphins will have to lean heavily on their defense in 2012 as their offense lacks the elite players needed to make a run. It will be interesting to see how players in contract years such as Sean Smith and Randy Starks perform. The two players who could take this defense from good to great if they perform to their bill are a pair of Utah Utes in Koa Misi and Sean Smith. It will be interesting to see how this young, talented defense performs in a new scheme under a new defensive coordinator which is just another reason to tune into HBO’s Hard Knocks.