Sunday, July 15, 2012

Training Camp Battles #8: Defensive End

Truthfully, there isn't really a battle among the Dolphins' starting defensive end spots. Pro Bowler Cameron Wake is locked in at the right defensive end spot, and 2010 first-rounder Jared Odrick seems to have the other spot by default.

Although Odrick played end in the Dolphins 3-4 scheme over the last two seasons, he profiles primarily as a 4-3 defensive tackle. That being said, he has some pass-rushing ability and his bulk should be useful on early rushing downs.

It's the Dolphins depth at defensive end that isn't quite set. There is almost no veteran depth at the position and the team has a handful of young players vying for a couple roster spots.

The Lock and Near-Lock

  • Olivier Vernon — A third-round pick out of the U, Vernon had an underwhelming collegiate career but has the physical tools to be a quality pass rusher in the pros. His draft spot practically assures him a roster spot, although he's unlikely to be anything more than a situational rusher and special-teamer is first year.
  • Jamaal Westerman — Westerman was undrafted out of Rutgers in 2009 and has spent the past three seasons with the Jets, setting career highs this past season in starts (three), tackles (32) and sacks (3.5). Although he signed a minimum deal and isn't much more than a backup and special-teamer, it'd be a slight surprise if he didn't make the team considering he's the only guy behind Wake and Odrick with NFL experience.

The Other Contenders
  • Jarrell Root — Of the Dolphins' three undrafted rookie ends, Root had the least impressive collegiate career and appears to have the least upside of the three. The Boise State product is a run-stuffer and doesn't have much pass-rush ability, so I suspect he'll have a very difficult time making the team.
  • Derrick Shelby — An undrafted out of Utah in 2012, Shelby has the measurables (6-3, 266) of an NFL defensive end and had a pretty solid collegiate career. Considering the Dolphins' relatively thin depth at the position, he could stick as a fourth or fifth defensive end or on the practice squad.
  • Jacquies Smith — Like Shelby, the undrafted Smith was solid in college, racking up 13 sacks at Missouri and starting the past two-and-a-half years. He is Shelby's biggest competition for that final roster spot or a practice squad gig.

The Verdict

With Vernon a lock to make the team and Westerman a near lock, the Dolphins will likely only have one spot to keep a developmental prospect and it's possible they don't even do that. The Dolphins could opt to keep just four on the roster, although with Odrick's potential double-duty at defensive tackle I could see them sticking with five.

In that event, my guess is that Shelby would make the team of the Dolphins' three undrafted rookies. He has the best combination of college production and physical tools and could be a nice project as a backup. You can't sleep on Smith either, although I like Shelby slightly better.

The Dolphins certainly need another pass rusher to help out Wake and I'm not sure that guy is on the roster yet, meaning they'll have to make do with the inexperienced depth they have now and hope they find a diamond in the rough.

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