On paper, the Miami Dolphins are the most improved team in the AFC East this offseason. As we all know, however, that rarely translates to immediate success.
Give the Dolphins credit for aggressively targeting positions they identified as needs. Among the big moves: A complete overhaul of the linebacking corps, big contracts for several wide receivers and a draft day trade to move up for the draft's top pass-rusher.
Here's a look at the depth chart with all of the team's moves in mind.
Free-agents and trades are in red, draft picks are in blue. Undrafted free-agent signings have not yet been confirmed by the team, and thus are not included. Layout courtesy Greg Bedard, with some minor changes.
Some notes on the roster:
Biggest strength: Defensive end. The AFC East has felt Cameron Wake's wrath for four years, in which time he's wracked up six sacks against the Bills, 5.5 against the Patriots and three against the Jets. Olivier Vernon has some potential as a nice backup off the edge. At 6'5" and 304 pounds, Jared Odrick isn't built like a true 4-3 defensive end, and might be better suited on the inside, but he could still serve a purpose as a run-stuffing defensive end.
Biggest weakness: Offensive tackle. Who's going to fill the left tackle spot left vacant by Jake Long? 2012 rookie Jonathan Martin did it for five games at the end of the season, but didn't play very well in that time. The Dolphins drafted Dallas Thomas in the third round in April's draft, and brought right tackle Eric Winston in for a workout on Wednesday (via Pro Football Talk). They're not doing so hot for depth either, with former Patriots tight end Will Yeatman looking to earn a spot at left tackle.
Most improved position from last year: Cornerback. Nolan Carroll is far removed from his role as a starter last year with the additions of Brent Grimes, Jamar Taylor and Will Davis and the return to health of Richard Marshall. Cornerback was seen as a position of need for the Dolphins, and they addressed it vigorously.
Most downgraded position from last year: It would be redundant to say offensive tackle, and the only other position worthy of consideration is running back. The Dolphins may have a hard time replacing Reggie Bush and his 2,660 scrimmage yards over the past two seasons. Lamar Miller has a similar skill set, but he was barely used last year (146 snaps) and who knows how he will do with a bigger workload. The Dolphins are clearly gearing up to throw the ball a good deal this coming season; the Patriots, and all their opponents, should take that into consideration.
Some leftover thoughts:
- Mike Wallace is the prize pony of free-agency, and Jeff Ireland really bet the farm on him. We explored what his impact might be on the Patriots way back in March, and although he's been used a variety of ways, the feeling is that he will be an outside-the-numbers deep threat for the Dolphins. That's one thing they were missing last year.
- Clearly, the Dolphins are switching their profile of cornerback under Kevin Coyle's defense. Vontae Davis and Sean Smith were seen as a solid duo of man cover cornerbacks (aside from the foolhardy "best tandem in the league" statement). Within eight months of each other, Davis was traded for a second-round pick and Smith walked away for nothing as a free-agent. Now, the Dolphins are rolling with scheme-versatile corners like Brent Grimes and Jamar Taylor, both of whom can play man or zone coverage depending on the call.
- To close out, I wanted to pass along this cool graphic from Pro Football Focus, which illustrates how linebackers Phillip Wheeler and Dannell Ellerbe were used in contrast to Dolphins linebacker Kevin Burnett and Karlos Dansby.
Burnett and Dansby were better cover linebackers, while Wheeler and Ellerbe are better blitzers. The Dolphins blitzed 38.2 percent of the time in 2012, around 6.7 percent above the league average. If the Dolphins are going to be effective with their aggressive 4-3 scheme, these were necessary moves to make.
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