Thursday, March 4, 2010

Miami Dolphins 2010 Offseason Preview: Defensive Line

The offseason will officially kick off with the signing and trading period March 5, and as I always do prior to the mayhem, I'll be looking at each position on the Dolphins' roster in depth.

I'll look at the team's strengths and areas of need, who is under contract, who are the free agents and their prospects for being re-signed, and who they might look at via trade, free agency, and the draft.

This article focuses on the defensive line positions.

Under Contract
  • DE Ikaika Alama-Francis (through 2010) —A former second-round pick by the Lions in 2007, Alama-Francis did not appear in a game for the Dolphins after signing with the team in November. The 25-year-old has some upside and will battle for a reserve spot in 2010.
  • DE Ryan Baker (through 2010) — Baker made a small splash with half a sack in his NFL debut, and appeared in five games as a rookie after going undrafted out of Purdue. His ceiling is limited and he's not lock to make the team in 2010.
  • DE Lionel Dotson (through 2011) — The Dolphins' seventh-round pick in 2008, Dotson has been unable to make an impact in two pro seasons, recording three tackles in four games played. Time could be running out for Dotson, and he'll have to step it up to secure a roster spot for a third year.
  • DE Kendall Langford (through 2011) — One of Parcells' best draft picks since arriving in Miami, Langford has developed into an outstanding 3-4 defensive end. He's a lock to start again in 2010.
  • DE Tony McDaniel (through 2010) — Acquired from the Jaguars for a seventh-round pick last offseason, McDaniel didn't have much of an impact as a reserve defensive end and emergency nose tackle. His roster spot in 2010 was never guaranteed, and his February arrest for domestic battery may seal his fate with the team.
  • DE Phillip Merling (through 2011) — Although he hasn't been as good as the guy picked a round after him, Kendall Langford, Merling is a quality 3-4 end with starting capability. He'll likely continue to rotate in heavily in 2010.
  • NT Paul Soliai (through 2010) — Soliai has constantly been in and out of the team's dog house since being drafted in the fourth round in 2007, and has never developed into the dominant nose tackle he has the ability to be. His play did improve in 2009, but his long-term value is still unknown, and the team will likely look elsewhere for a starting nose tackle.
  • DE Randy Starks (through 2012) — Simply put, Starks was fantastic in 2009. He played at a Pro Bowl level throughout the season, dominating as a run-stuffer and pass-rusher. The contract he received from Miami in 2008 looks to be well worth it, and he will continue to start in 2010.

Free Agents
  • NT Jason Ferguson (unrestricted) — Ferguson remains a solid nose tackle when healthy, but his durability has been a problem in recent years and he's not 35 years old. The Dolphins could have interest in re-signing him at the right price, but he's no longer capable of starting full-time.

  • The Dolphins are absolutely set at the defensive end spot, with three starting-caliber players (Starks, Langford, Merling) for two spots. They ability to rotate in an out keeps everyone fresh and goes a long way into creating a dominant 3-4 defensive line.

Areas of Need
  • Maybe the most important piece of the 3-4 defense is the nose tackle, and right now the Dolphins don't have a long-term answer there. Paul Soliai has been inconsistent and hasn't lived up to his potential in three pro seasons, while 35-year-old Jason Ferguson is a free agent with durability concerns.

Free Agency Outlook
  • Unfortunately for the Dolphins, most of the top free-agent 3-4 nose tackles were either hit with the franchise tag or re-signed, including Aubrayo Franklin (49ers), Casey Hampton (Steelers), Ryan Pickett (Packers), Vince Wilfork (Patriots). There's little doubt in my mind the Dolphins would have been in hot pursuit of Franklin or Wilfork if they'd been allowed to his the market.
  • There isn't much on the open market in terms of long-term starting nose tackles, with 35-year-old Jason Ferguson and inconsistent Tank Johnson headlining the list.

Draft Outlook
  • The Dolphins are a strong bet to take a nose tackle in the upcoming draft, possibly quite early. Terrence Cody (Alabama) and Dan Williams (Tennessee) are the best of the bunch and both potential first-round picks, though Williams is a safer pick and has the size and conditioning that Parcells has seemed to prefer in his past nose tackles.
  • I expect the Dolphins to go elsewhere in Round 1, meaning they could use their second- or third-round pick to find a quality nose tackle prospect. I'd love for the team to land Cam Thomas (North Carolina) in the second round or Torell Toup (Central Florida) in the third.
  • Later-round possibilities include Vince Oghobaase (Duke), Linval Joseph (East Carolina) and Al Woods (Louisiana State).
  • Additionally, the Dolphins could bring an undrafted nose tackle as a project, with candidates including Tommie Duhart (Valdosta State), DeMarcus Granger (Oklahoma), Travis Ivey (Maryland), Abe Koroma (Western Illinois), Martin Tevaseu (UNLV), and Kade Weston (Georgia).


The Dolphins' defensive line is a tale of two sides. Defensive end is set with a Pro Bowl-caliber player in Starks and two great young talents in Langford and Merling. Some better depth could be used, but it's not a big issue.

Meanwhile, the Dolphin desperately need to find a long-term answer at nose tackle if they are going to continue to run the 3-4 defense. They need to find their Wilfork, their Franklin, their Hampton. It probably won't be in free agency, so I expect the Dolphins to grab that guy in the draft this year, and expect him to play significantly as a rookie splitting time with Soliai.

How do you feel about the Dolphins' defensive line heading into the 2010 offseason? Share your thoughts on the forum here!