Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Dolphins re-sign Nathan Jones, add Igor Olshansky

With the Miami Dolphins off to a rough start to the season at 0-2 and head coach Tony Sparano on the just about the hottest season in the NFL right now, the team has made some veteran roster additions in hopes of improving the struggling defense in the immediate future.

A familiar face returns to the secondary in the form of ex-Dolphins cornerback Nathan Jones, who has been re-signed after spending last season in Denver. The Dolphins also added former Chargers and Cowboys defensive end Igor Olshansky, who will provide depth on the defensive line.

To make room for Jones and Olshansky, the Dolphins terminated the contracts of running back Larry Johnson and tight end Dante Rosario. Both players were signed prior to Week 1 and appeared in each of the Dolphins' two games since with little impact. Rosario was limited to special teams and did not notch a tackle, while Johnson rushed for two yards on a single carry.

Finally, the Dolphins lost one of their 2011 draft picks as nose tackle Frank Kearse was signed off the practice squad to the Carolina Panthers' active roster. The seventh-rounder initially survived final cuts only to be waived a day later on Sept. 4 following waiver claims.


Nathan Jones

A former Big East Special Teams Player of the Year, Jones was selected by the Bill Parcells-led Cowboys in the seventh round of the 2004 NFL Draft. He spent four seasons with the team working primarily as a backup and special-teamer, starting just one of 51 contests played and recording 78 tackles, a sack, a forced fumble, and two pass deflections.

Jones (5-10, 185) became an unrestricted free agent in 2008 and signed a two-year contract. He once again worked on special teams while also serving as a reserve cornerback, amassing 23 tackles, three sacks, and his first career interceptions.

Following the season-ending injury to Will Allen in 2009, Jones took on a larger role in the secondary and opened four of 16 contests. That season he set career highs in tackles (54), interceptions (2) and pass deflections (10).

Due in large part to his impressive performance in Miami, Jones landed a four-year contract with the Denver Broncos as a free agent in 2010. He played one season for the team, recording 57 tackles and three pass deflections, before a regime change saw him fall out of favor. The Broncos released him during the 2011 preseason.

Jones will wear No. 32 during his second stint in Miami. His old No. 33 is currently taken by rookie second-round running back Daniel Thomas.


Igor Olshansky

A Ukraine native, Olshansky declared for the 2004 NFL Draft following his junior season at Oregon that saw him earn second-team All-Pac-10 honors. He was selected by the San Diego Chargers in the second round (35th overall) and signed to a six-year contract that included a voidable fifth year.

In five seasons with the Chargers, Olshansky missed only three games and started 70 of the 75 contests in which he appeared. He was a key component of a routinely effective Chargers run defense, totaling 177 tackles and three forced fumbles during his time in San Diego while adding 11 sacks, an interception, and six pass deflections.

After hitting the free agent market in 2009, Olshansky signed a four-year, $18 million contract with the Dallas Cowboys that included $8 million guaranteed. He started 28 of 32 games played over two seasons, recording 78 tackles and 1.5 sacks during that span while grading out as a quality run defender.

The Cowboys released Olshansky during final cuts on Sept. 3 in lieu of paying him a $3.34 million salary in 2011. He will wear No. 95 for the Dolphins, which was previously worn by retired nose tackle Jason Ferguson.


Analysis

Addressing the releases first, I find no issue with letting either Johnson or Rosario go. Johnson was a nice depth signing, but with Daniel Thomas healthy and impressive against the Texans, the roster spot was better served elsewhere. Johnson will certainly be on speed dial if injuries in the backfield arise.

Despite his experience, Rosario failed to jump Jeron Mastrud for the No. 2 tight end job behind Anthony Fasano. The team obviously liked Mastrud and developmental blocker Will Yeatman better, so Rosario obviously wasn't going to make an impact.


The real tragedy here is that Rosario is the player that was signed when promising linebacker A. J. Edds (now with the Patriots) was cut, so it's a shame to see that have happened for nothing.

I'm not always rosy when it comes to think the Dolphins do (especially lately), but I find it hard to dislike either of these signings. Obviously neither is going to single-handedly turn around the Dolphins' season and it's possible either could not even make it the entire season on the roster, but I think both moves make the team better.

Jones had his best year with the Dolphins in 2009 and brings some much needed depth. He'll join Allen in giving the Dolphins some experience and reliability in a secondary that has struggled thus far with the ineffectiveness of Nolan Carroll as well as starting corner Vontae Davis and free safety Chris Clemons nursing hamstring injuries.

If Davis is healthy enough to play in Week 3 against the Browns, I expect Jones to participate in dime packages immediately, an even bigger role of Davis cannot go. I'd say Jones is proven and experienced enough that he can be counted on to play immediately after being signed.

As for Olshansky, he provides an experienced and starting-caliber body on a defensive line that could be without Tony McDaniel (fractured hand). He doesn't offer much in the pass-rush department, but he's an excellent run-stuffer and has the talent to start at end in a 3-4 scheme.

I wouldn't be surprised to see Olshansky activate immediately either, as he is more than capable of jumping in and being an effective member of the Dolphins' line rotation in McDaniel's absence. He'll essentially be auditioning for a permanent role with the likes of Ryan Baker and Phillip Merling, with all three being candidates for release when McDaniel returns.

Obviously the Dolphins have a long way to go with an 0-2 record and the struggles the defense has had thus far are concerning. That being the case, I give credit to Sparano and Jeff Ireland here for going out and getting two experienced veterans that can provide depth and help shore up the unit's shortcomings instantly.

As always, check out the updated projected depth chart reflecting these transactions here.


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