Thursday, November 20, 2008

Dolphins Claim LB Erik Walden Off Waivers, Add NT Joe Cohen to Practice Squad

The Dolphins continued to shuffle their special teams players today, claiming rookie linebacker Erik Walden off waivers from the Kansas City Chiefs. Waived to make room for Walden on the active roster was linebacker Rob Ninkovich, who was recently promoted from the practice squad and saw action against the Raiders last Sunday.

The Dolphins also made a practice squad move yesterday, adding former 49ers defensive lineman Joe Cohen to their practice squad. A fourth-round pick by San Francisco in 2007 out of Florida, Cohen takes the open practice squad spot vacated by Ninkovich last week.

(CLICK HERE to see the my latest projected depth chart following these roster moves!)

Rob Ninkovich

A fifth-round pick by the New Orleans Saints in 2006, Ninkovich spent most of his rookie season on injured reserve after suffering a torn ACL early in the regular season. Another knee injury forced him to miss the following preseason and the Saints eventually waived him prior to the 2007 regular season.

Ninkovich was then claimed off waivers by the Miami Dolphins. He saw action in four games, recording two tackles, while being inactive for 12 others.

Despite leading the team with two sacks in the 2008 preseason, Ninkovich was waived on Aug. 31 and re-signed to the practice squad. He was eventually promoted to the active roster on Nov. 15 when guard Matt McChesney was placed on injured reserve. Ninkovich played special teams against the Oakland Raiders on Nov. 16 but did not record any tackles. He was waived on Nov. 20.

Erik Walden

A Georgia native, Walden had an impressive collegiate career as a defensive end at Middle Tennessee State, earning first-team All-Sun Belt honors each of his final two seasons and setting the school record in sacks.

After recording nine sacks over his freshman and sophomore seasons, Walden had his best year as a junior in 2006, racking up 48 tackles (14.5 for a loss), three forced fumbles and a fumble recovery to go along with his school-record 11.5 sacks.

As a senior in 2007, Walden appeared in just 10 games due to a toe injury but still managed to record 46 tackles (8.5 for a loss), two sacks, an interception, two pass breakups and a safety. Walden's 22.5 career sacks set a school record.

In pre-draft workouts, Walden posted a 33-inch vertical leap, 25-bench reps of 225 pounds and ran a 40-yard dash of 4.72 seconds. He was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in the sixth round (167th overall) of the 2008 NFL Draft. Coincidentally, the pick Dallas used to select Walden was originally acquired from Miami in a swap of sixth-rounders in the Jason Ferguson deal. (Miami took guard Donald Thomas with the pick from Dallas.)

In the 2008 preseason, Walden appeared in all four games for the Cowboys including a start in the final contest and recorded seven tackles (five solo) and no sacks. He was waived by the team on August 30 during final cuts.

The following day, Walden was claimed off waivers by the Kansas City Chiefs. He recorded 10 special teams in nine games with the Chiefs, though was held without a tackle over the final four games. The Chiefs waived him on Nov. 20.

Walden will play outside linebacker for the Dolphins and wear No. 50, which had previously been worn by linebacker Marc Magro on the practice squad this season and linebacker Edmond Miles in 2007.

Because Walden has been claimed off waivers twice and has never been a free agent, his rookie contract with Dallas remains intact. He is under contract for the next four years at base salaries of $295,000 in 2008, $385,000 in 2009, $470,000 in 2010 and $555,000 in 2011.

Analysis

Ninkovich is a solid prospect in my opinion but the Dolphins clearly view him as primarily a special teams guy at the moment. He'll probably be re-added to the practice squad if he clears waivers and if he wants to come back. I think he can be an NFL backup at linebacker or defensive end (depending on the scheme) and he's probably not too far away from another shot on the active roster.

As for Walden, he's a good claim for the Dolphins as he has strong pass-rushing skills, some upside and comes cheap. Also, what might be even more important for the Dolphins in the near future, he showed good ability on special teams in his time with Kansas City. As we all know by now, Miami's special teams unit has been the target of much criticism this season and their averages in punt- and kick-return yards allowed are dismal.

It's no surprise the Dolphins had a strong interest in Walden. Having been drafted by the Cowboys, Miami general manager Jeff Ireland no doubt scouted Walden out of Middle Tennessee State and we've seen all year a shared interest between the franchises in the similar players.

A college football defensive end, Walden translates perfectly as a pass-rushing outside linebacker in the 3-4. Though he doesn't possess great strength and there are concerns about his ability to learn a playbook, Walden possesses good finesse moves as a pass rusher. He has great athleticism with long arms and has great initial burst.

While he may initially be limited to a special teams role as was the guy he replaced, Walden does have some upside and at the very least could become a good situational pass rusher. His addition to the team costs next to nothing and is a good all-around add for the Dolphins, even if it is no sure thing.


Joe Cohen

Regarded as one of the nation's top fullbacks coming out of high school, Cohen saw time on offense in 10 games as a freshman in 2003. He was then moved to the defensive line during spring drills in 2004. He was a teammate of current Dolphins linebacker Channing Crowder each of his first two seasons.

As a junior in 2005, Cohen appeared in 12 contests for the Gators including nine starts on the defensive line. He recorded 15 tackles (four for a loss), one sack and one interception on the season.

Cohen started 12 games and played in 14 at defensive tackle as a senior 2006, including Florida's BCS Championship over Ohio State. On the year he recorded 26 tackles (two for a loss), half a sack and a pass defensed.

Prior to the 2007 NFL Draft, Cohen worked out at the NFL Scouting Combine, posted a 4.80 shuttle time, 7.88 three-cone drill, 31-inch vertical leap and 8-foot-8 broad jump.

The San Francisco 49ers drafted Cohen in the fourth round (135th overall) of the 2007 NFL Draft. He signed a four-year contract with the team on May 24. However, a knee injury suffered in the preseason finale landed Cohen on injured reserve his rookie season.

Cohen appeared in three preseason games for the 49ers in 2008, working at both nose tackle and defensive end in San Francisco's 3-4 scheme. However, he was waived by the team during the first wave of cuts on Aug. 23.

Analysis

Though he technically takes Ninkovich's spot on the practice squad, Cohen is essentially the replacement for nose tackle Anthony Toribio, who was released from the Dolphins' practice squad on Nov. 12 and has since moved on to Green Bay's practice squad.

Though Cohen has yet to prove himself as a pro and the knee injury from his rookie year is a concern, he's a quality prospect to add to the practice squad and try to develop. He doesn't have great speed and agility and doesn't possess much a pass rusher, but Cohen is a stout run stuffer who clogs up holes on the line of scrimmage and rarely gets overpowered.

Cohen has the versatility to play inside or outside on the 3-4 line, though I suspect he'll primarily focus on nose tackle given the number of ends Miami already has and the fact that Toribio was recently let go. While he doesn't have the bulk of a Vince Wilfork, Dallas' (and perhaps now Miami's) 3-4 nose tackles haven't always been out of that mold. (The Cowboys' current nose tackle is only about 300 pounds.)

As a practice squad player, Cohen will earn about $5,200 a week. His spot on the practice squad is not safe and he could be cut at any time (including if/when Ninkovich gets re-added to the practice squad). However, I suspect he may stick around through the season and be given a shot to win a job on the team in camp in 2009.