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  Pass Rush Could be Scarce
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by Chris Shashaty, Phins.com Columnist

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Last season, the Miami Dolphins did a pretty good job of applying pressure on opposing quarterbacks. This was especially true from the outside linebacker position.


Of the 44 sacks, tied for 3rd overall in the National Football League, 64% (28.5) came from just four players:

  • OLB Joey Porter (9)
  • OLB Jason Taylor (7)
  • DL Randy Starks (7)
  • OLB Cameron Wake (5.5)

This does not count QB pressures or hurries, or any of the other myriad of acts that can affect an opponentís passing game.


One might study the above numbers and immediately recall the old saying ďif it ainít broke, donít fix itĒ. But we know that change is a constant companion in the NFL, and the Miami Dolphins are especially susceptible to it these days. This is what happens en masse when a 7-9 finish, surrendering the third highest number of points in the AFC, is the follow-on to an 11-5 season, a divisional title, and a playoff berth.


As we all know, Mssrs. Porter and Taylor are no longer on the team. Porter was cut, albeit clumsily, and has since signed with the Arizona Cardinals. His departure was definitely for the mutual good. Taylor, the greatest defender in team history, was a free agent. Once the Dolphins made it clear that his services were no longer desired, he moved on to the rival New York Jets. Donít be upset with TaylorÖthe Jets were the only team actively interested. And look, a guy has a right to work. So best of luck to JT, except when he plays the Dolphins.


As for Mssrs. Starks and Wake, theyíre going to be Dolphins for a long time to come. Theyíre both young and good, and will now become fixtures as starters in the defensive front seven. Yet change is coming for both of them, too.


Right after the draft wrapped up, Tony Sparano confessed that Starks would be moving inside to defensive tackle on a permanent basis. With NT Jason Ferguson suspended until mid-season and reserve Paul Soliai not exactly a true NT, this move wasnít exactly a bombshell.


Starks will have to do the job in a different manner than Ferg does, because Starks isnít a space eater in that way. Instead, he will play more of a ď3Ē technique where heíll align himself at an angle over the center's shoulder (think Warren Sapp). The good news is that Starks should do very well in this capacity. The bad news is that tackle in a 3-4 defense isnít exactly a prime pass rushing position.


Now, for those of you sober types doing the math, the sum of these changes adversely affects about half of the 2009 total team output in sacks. This begs the question: Where will the heat come from in 2010?


Part of the answer is an expectation of greater productivity from Wake. He will be flipped over to the starting weakside OLB position, the prime spot for bringing heat from the blind side. Itís a terrific opportunity for him to improve on his 5.5 sacks from a year ago as a part time defender, and the Dolphins feel he is up to the challenge.


But Wake alone canít be expected to make up for the loss in pass rush productivity from the departures of Taylor and Porter, together with Starksí move inside.


The problem the Dolphins face is that the list of encouraging options after Wake falls off like a jump from a dive boat into Key Biscayne.


What about inside linebacker Karlos Dansby, the teamís high profile defensive free agent? He hasnít shown much as a pass rusher since his 8 sack outburst four seasons ago, and thereís little reason to expect differently from him now; itís just not his game.


What about first round draft pick Jared Odrick? He showed very average ability as a pass rusher at Penn State, and learning to become a good pass rusher in the pros takes time. Ditto second rounder Koa Misi, who is too light in the britches right now to stand tough against the run.


Bottom line is that normal inexperience is the biggest hurdle these two men will probably face in 2010; the proverbial school of hard knocks, if you will. This is why I just cannot see either of them running around or through Matt Light or DíBrickashaw Ferguson anytime soon.


So unless DEs Kendall Langford or Phillip Merling have some sort of an epiphany, new defensive boss Mike Nolan figures to have his hands full.


This is why the teamís refusal to re-sign Taylor makes little sense. Sure, the guy has a year, maybe two, left. But a proven pass rusher like Taylor, a solid leader who can still be productive on passing downs, would have strengthened the roster. Instead, Bill Parcells, Jeff Ireland, and Sparano decided to kneel at the altar of the NFL Draft and pray that they hit it big with one of the five front-seven players they drafted.


Could it happen? Sure it could, and I would be the first to defer to their years of experience in this matter. Yet the odds are long against rookies making that big of an impact in their first year, not to mention that the devotion of half of their draft picks to the linebacker position bordered on ridiculous.


But hey, maybe this is the best approach; pick a bunch of guys you like and hope you hit it big with at least one of them. If not, the worst outcome is that youíve solidified the middle of the roster. Any way you look at it, itís a positive outcome that makes the Dolphins a better team, even if it doesnít help bring down Tom Brady.


Just how the Dolphins will accomplish that latter task remains to be seen.

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