Friday, July 23, 2010

Top Training Camp Battles #9: Starting Inside Linebacker

The biggest splash made by the Miami Dolphins on defense this offseason was the signing of free agent Karlos Dansby, but that doesn't mean the team's productivity problems at inside linebacker are entirely solved.

Akin Ayodele has been released and is now in Denver Broncos, while returning linebacker Channing Crowder is coming off an injury-shortened 2009 season with a career-low 52 tackles in 13 games.

Furthermore, Crowder has seemingly been allergic to making big plays in his five seasons in the NFL, recording just 2.5 sacks and one interception in 71 career games.

While Crowder doesn't have any clear-cut starting material to challenge him, it's come to the point in his career where the Dolphins are absolutely not going to just hand him the starting job.

Originally thought to be a special-teams throw-in to the Chargers-Dolphins big draft-day deal that landed San Diego running back Ryan Mathews and Miami defensive end Jared Odrick in Round One, linebacker Tim Dobbins could give Crowder a run for his money.

An experienced 3-4 linebacker after four seasons in San Diego, Dobbins is coming of his two best years as a pro with a combined 112 tackles, one sacks, two interceptions, and four forced fumbles.

Dobbins lacks ideal height for the position at just 6-foot-1, but he is a solidly-built linebacker and good hitter with solid run defense skills.

Crowder is no slouch against the run himself and has always been a pretty sure tackler, but he has certainly failed to emerge as the great NFL starter some thought he could be when he was drafted in 2005.

Also pushing for playing time on defense will be rookie fourth-round pick A. J. Edds of Iowa. Speed, agility, and coverage skills are some of Edds' best qualities, and they happen to be the things Crowder is lacking the most.

Edds will primarily back up Karlos Dansby as a rookie, but a good showing in training camp and practices throughout the season could earn him more playing time at Crowder's or Dobbins' expense.

Crowder probably should be considered the favorite to start at this point given his experience and superior productivity to any of his competition, but expect Dobbins and Edds to give him a strong run for his money.

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