The back seven could be the most crucial part of the Miami Dolphins plans to play football in January this season. The Dolphin Defense was pretty good in 2013 as they surrendered only 17 touchdowns (3rd best in the league), opposing quarterbacks had the 5th worst passer rating against the Phins, and although they were 16th in yards per game surrendered, that stat is deceiving as the Defense spent a tremendous amount of time on the field due to a lack of a run game/ball control. The defensive might have bent at times, but the number of touchdowns surrendered shows that they rarely broke. Despite the groups relative success there was seemingly so much that could be improved upon and that will need to be improved upon if the Dolphins are going to make the playoffs against improved division opponents and a tough non-division schedule. And the key to this improvement lies in the back seven, as I think we have a good idea about what we are going to get the front four.
The Dolphins Defense under the supposed blitz guru Kevin Coyle registered 42 sacks, good for the 11th highest total in the league. This is a number that I was unimpressed with, as I did not believe the front four, and the blitzing backers failed to finish on top of signal callers enough. If the quality of coverage is similar to last year then I would still expect to see more sacks with a defensive line that should get a huge boast from developing players already on the roster. But if the back seven can improve in coverage, then expect the sack total to climb into the 50’s and for the Dolphins to be among the league leaders in this category.
The defensive line was a strong suit in 2013 and even with the loss of Paul Soliai the Dolphins defensive front should be vastly improved. Hickey was able to resign Randy Starks at a discount rate, as well as add Earl Mitchell who should excel in Miami as he wont see double-teams on every snap like he did in Huston.
As far as the defensive ends go Wake is one of the most feared defenders in the league and when healthy he can single handedly change the game. If he can stay healthy in 2014 there is no question that he will register double-digit sacks. Opposite Wake will be Oliver Vernon who was a pleasant surprise last season. Vernon’s physical gifts have never been in question, and after last year it seems he erased questions about his motor as he registered 11.5 sacks. Vernon and Wake proved to be a powerful duo, I expect an even more powerful trio this year when a much bigger and stronger Dion Jordan pushes Vernon from the starting line. Jordan didn’t have the impact fans would have hoped last season, but he did confirm that he is a rare athlete, a defensive end who can turn and run with tight ends. Jordan’s 2013 was truly a wash, but we cant reasonably expect 2014 to be the same. The Dolphins front will get a boast from an athletic freak who would have one of the highest draft grades in this years draft, and a player that unlike this years rookies will have had a year to adjust his mind and body to fit into the NFL mold.
With the defensive line set, we must look to the new look secondary to best last years bunch whose performance is almost unexplainable. Brent Grimes was one of the highlights of 2013 as he emerged from the phone booth with his cape on as he bounced back to his 2010 form. And I am confident he will play at a pro bowl level again in 2014 as the man can straight ball when healthy. But besides Grimes you never knew whom you would see come through the turnstile to play the other corner for the Dolphins last season, as the position was decimated by injuries. Jamar Taylor and Will Davis both had disappointing rookie seasons as both dealt with injury troubles the entire season, and Dmitri Patterson (Jets), who seemingly had an interception whenever he was on the field (4 in 6 games) spent more than twice as much time being a spectator as he did being a player. Veterans Nolan Carroll (Eagles), and Jimmy Wilson really stepped up for a defensive backfield that only allowed 4 touchdowns receivers last season, but you can’t expect players like Wilson to be lockdown week in and week out.
Despite the strong statistical performance by the rag tag group last year I am confident that the group in 2014 will be more talented, even though you can expect them to surrender a few more touchdowns since last years statistical anomaly would be hard to repeat.
Opposite Grimes will probably be Jamar Taylor, but don’t be surprised if Will Davis made a run at the starting spot. And although neither Taylor or Davis showed a lot in 2013, their draft grades would make them 2 of the top 5 corners in the 2014 draft class and the Dolphins are banking on one of them panning out and manning the “other” corner. I would expect Taylor to be that other guy, because although he lacks the size and pure speed to play press coverage, he is more than solid in zone and off-man and was a reliable tackler while playing on Bosie’s smurf turf.
Cortland Finnegan has always been the guy that you hate when he wears another teams colors, but I have a feeling he will be a fan favorite in aqua and orange. Finnegan was one of the better corners in the league just a few years ago and when healthy it’s expected that he will return close to form. The Dolphins will most likely have him play nickel and I expect him to be one of the better nickel corners in the league and a corner that slot receivers don’t want to deal with. Aside from the toughness and edge that he brings to the secondary that desperately needs it, he might have a bigger impact Monday to Saturday. Finnegan is a film addict and he should set a good example for the young corners on the roster and the youngsters to be added from this deep draft class.
Aside from bringing in Finnegan the Dolphins got even tougher when they brought Miami native Louis Delmas in on a show me contract and if he can stay healthy expect Delmas to show a lot. With a defense that is good enough/athletic enough to play effective man, expect Delmas to be a serious weapon. Delmas is a super athlete who loves to bang and if he is primarily playing over the top of man coverage expect to see a true enforcer. Defenders are schooled on how to separate the ball from the man or, the man from the ball. Louis Delmas prefers to do the latter and it will be exciting to have that type of player on this defense serving as a compliment to Reshad Jones. And although I understand the safety concerns in a game that squares men against each other that are more fit to battle than machines, but at the end of the day football is still more than a contact sport, it’s a collision sport. For any of you who have played the game on the offensive side of the ball after you were too old for mom to drive you to practice, you can understand how receivers can developed alligator arms when lead into the cage of a beast in the middle, and how they become increasingly aware of his location after he first draws blood. A player like this who is omnipresent in the heads of opposing teams playmakers could translate into teams swearing there are 15 players on the field and that translates into more 3 and outs.
With all this said about Delmas, he is on a one-year deal and has problems staying healthy so if Clinton-Dix were on the board at 19 while top prospects werent I would expect the Dolphins to think long and hard about adding more depth here.
The biggest issue left to address in the back seven is linebacker as it might have been the most disappointing position group on the squad in 2013. The Dolphins made linebacker a focus last offseason when they cut ties with Karlos Dansby (Browns) and Kevin Burnett (Raiders) to get younger. And although they did get younger they actually got worse since Dansby remerged in a big way for the Cardinals in 2013 and Burnett was solid in Oakland. Ellerbe and Wheeler on the other hand were just okay last year, and did not rise to expectations of the organization. Ellerbe desperately needs to move to the outside and there is now talk of moving the inconsistent Koa Misi inside to solidify the position, but this would only be putting a Band-Aid on a water main break.
If CJ Mosley is on the board at 19 the Dolphins can solidify the position for a decade with a backer who has exceptional instincts, who plays fast and would be dangerous in a Kevin Coyle’s defense. Yes he played in the 3-4 defense at Alabama, but at 6-2, 234 pounds smaller backer he would thrive in a 4-3 where he doesn’t have to take on as many blocks on his way to punishing ball carriers. Mosley’s speed and hip mobility also partially addresses the Phins need for linebackers who are better in coverage because although the secondary frustrated receivers, tight ends and tail-backs were able to find the end zone against the Phins with little resistance.
If Taylor Lewan, and Eric Ebron aren’t on the board look for the Dolphins run to the podium to add a key piece of a winning defense with Mosley.