Monday, April 2, 2012

Free agents Tyrell Johnson, Rocky McIntosh visit Dolphins

Despite currently having just under $6.5 million in salary cap space, the Miami Dolphins continues to explore free agent options at need positions. On Monday, the team announced official visits of safety Tyrell Johnson and linebacker Rocky McIntosh.

The 26-year-old Johnson was a four-time All-Sun Belt selection at Arkansas State as well as the conference's defensive player of the year as a senior. Selected in the second round of the 2008 NFL Draft by the Minnesota Vikings, Johnson has started 27 games during his four-year career, but just five over the past two seasons.

After a career-high 15 starts in 2009, Johnson opened just two of seven games played the following year and started three of 11 contests in 2011 before landing on injured reserve with a torn hamstring. In mid-March, Johnson was quoted as saying he was "75-80 percent healed" from the injury.

Despite measuring in at just 6-feet and 207 pounds, Johnson is a hard-hitting, strong safety type. He's totaled 123 tackles, two interceptions and 10 pass deflections in his career, but has struggled to maintain a starting job and spent last season primarily on special teams, recording two tackles.

In Miami, Johnson would likely serve as competition to replace veteran Yeremiah Bell, who was released by the team last month. 2010 fifth-rounder Reshad Jones is widely regarded as the leading in-house replacement, despite starting 12 games at free safety last season. While neither has established himself as an NFL starter to date, both still have upside and would be worthy pupils for new defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle, who spent the past nine seasons as a defensive backs coach with the Bengals.

Meanwhile, McIntosh is a slightly higher-profile visitor as a long-time starter for the Washington Redskins at linebacker. Originally a second-round pick out of the University of Miami in 2006, McIntosh has opened 69 of 92 games played during his six-year career and has totaled four seasons of 87+ tackles.

That being said, he's entering the market with as little momentum as possible, having spent the past two seasons struggling to adjust to the Redskins' 3-4 scheme brought by the arrival of Mike Shanahan. Despite recording a career-high 110 tackles in 15 starts in 2010, McIntosh missed 13 tackles and allowed a catch rate of 91.5 percent in coverage—second-worst in the NFL at his position behind only the Dolphins' Tim Dobbins.

The 2011 season was when McIntosh began to fall out of favor, as he started just eight of 15 games and none after Week 9. Playing just 516 defensive snaps (less than half of the team's total) and recorded 65 tackles—his lowest total since his rookie season.

That being said, McIntosh's recent struggles likely mean he won't command a big financial commitment to sign and wouldn't be guaranteed a starting spot. Despite what some other publications have said, McIntosh would not play middle linebacker in the Dolphins' new 4-3 scheme, but rather compete at the weakside linebacker spot, where he played in Washington in that scheme.

Much has been discussed about the Dolphins' linebackers and their fit into the 4-3 scheme, but I for one don't see second-round bust Koa Misi as a viable starting option inside (remember, he was drafted as a pass rusher).

I also don't think that both Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett would move outside in the 4-3, despite that being their natural position in the scheme. My instinct tells me Dansby would stay in the middle to "quarterback" the defense, and the fact that the Dolphins have worked out two outside linebackers (McIntosh and Philip Wheeler, who signed with the Raiders) lends credence to that notion.

While neither one of these players has signed and neither would be a lock to start in Miami, I am certainly glad the cap-strapped Dolphins are exploring bargain options for competition at positions of need. With any luck, the Dolphins will extend a few contracts (name Jake Long's) and create a more cap room with which to work this offseason.

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