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  Position Analysis: Defensive Line
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by Chris Shashaty, Phins.com Columnist

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On a periodic basis between now and the 2006 NFL Draft, I will take an in-depth look at the Dolphins. This week: Defensive Line.


Defensive Tackle




Current State: Nick Saban and the personnel staff did a terrific job of replacing stalwarts Tim Bowens and Larry Chester, both lost during the offseason to career-ending injuries. Through free agency, the Dolphins acquired Keith Traylor and Vonnie Holliday. Traylor was a dominant force, commanding constant double teams and delivering an MVP level performance. Unfortunately, Traylor is a 15-year veteran who had to regularly take practice time off to rest his bad knees. He also missed three games to due to injury (right knee). Still, Traylor picked up 40 tackles and 2 sacks, one against Michael Vick. The versatile Holliday, who split time between Tackle and End, racked up 56 tackles and 5 sacks while playing in all 16 games. Simply put, without Holliday and Traylor the Dolphins do not win 9 games. Both men figure to return in 2006. Through the regular and supplemental drafts the Dolphins picked up Manuel Wright and Kevin Vickerson. Wright saw some action towards the end of the season, flashing some dominant play in the big comeback win against the Bills. Heís a keeper. Vickerson injured his knee during the final preseason game and spent the year on injured reserve. Veteran Jeff Zgonina, the only holdover from 2004, once again delivered a solid performance with his second-best season in terms of tackles (45). Zgonina is also a good team leader. Orrin Thompson spent the year on the Practice Squad while Howard Green was a late season pick up.


Strengths: Traylor; a healthy mix of good veterans and promising young players.


Weaknesses: Overall age (Traylor is 36, Holliday is 30 and Zgonina is 35). Traylorís health (knees).


Offseason Priority: Medium to High. The encouraging progress of Wright, who made real strides this past year, lessens the urgency somewhat (relative to other team needs). Vickerson impressed the coaches before he got hurt; can he return to form?



Defensive End


Current State: Another MVP year for the great Jason Taylor, without a doubt an elite player in this league. The all-time Dolphin sack leader rang up 12 more sacks and a career high in tackles (77), and did it while suffering from a painful foot injury and a bad shoulder. His performance earned him another Pro Bowl berth, his fourth, though the aforementioned injuries will keep him from playing. The injuries also kept us from seeing more of him in his outside linebacker role, a new responsibility for him in Sabanís 3-4 scheme. With a season of 3-4 experience under his belt, Taylor figures to have a monster year in 2006. Kevin Carter was another excellent free agent pick-up. He started all 16 games (continuing a streak of176 straight games), registering 54 tackles and 6 sacks. Expect Carter back in 2006. David Bowens performed in a reserve role. He started the season very slowly but picked up his production during the second half with 6 sacks. His high energy style of play on defense and special teams is fun to watch; he has the ability to play both DE and OLB. Rookie Matt Roth, the teamís second round selection, also performed in a reserve role. Roth has a good motor and works hard but has a long way to go with his technique. A solid offseason of work should help his game to better develop.


Strengths: Taylor, the most dominant DE in team historyÖa difference-maker that opposing teams must account for at all times; a healthy mix of good veterans and promising young players.


Weaknesses: Age is starting to become a concern for Taylor (31) and Carter (32).


Offseason Priority: Medium. The Dolphins invested a high draft pick on Roth, Bowens is only 28, and Holliday spends time at DE. The jury is still out on Roth. He figures to improve, though his real upside is difficult to predict at this time. Expect Saban to acquire another legitimate young prospect.




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