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Scouts Inc.: A new Porter? Same as the old one

10/31/2008

Posted by Scouts Inc.'s Keith Kidd

Joey Porter caught us all napping. Last year he looked like an overpriced, over-the-hill loudmouth. At age 30, he gave Miami all of 5.5 sacks in the first year of a contract that guaranteed him $20 million. Porter was a bad investment, right?

So why is it that when he talks about threatening Michael Strahan's sack record this season, we have to take him seriously? Because Porter has 10.5 sacks through seven games -- a figure that matches his career high and puts him on a pace to eclipse Strahan's NFL single-season record of 22.5. He has been on an absolute tear, victimizing left tackles of all shapes and sizes. The question is: What has changed since last year?

First, Porter appears to be in excellent shape, probably better than ever. Last season he was bothered by a shoulder injury and may still have been recovering from offseason knee surgery. This season I see an explosive, driven relentless pass rusher. He has been a force moving forward, often beating blockers with his initial quickness and first-step explosion. Porter's ability to get on the outside edge of left tackles has been incredible, and he has the speed to close and finish.

Porter also is mixing things up nicely. His hand placement and explosiveness allow him to create separation, execute a rip move to get underneath, then realign and get on the edge. He also has a power move to collapse the pocket, and he can start upfield and redirect. A three-angle pass rusher is the toughest kind for a blocker, because there's nowhere to hide.

What is interesting is that Porter has broken out only after Jason Taylor has moved on. Traditionally, it's the threat of two excellent outside pass rushers that energizes a good 3-4 scheme, but Porter has been getting quality matchups thanks to Miami's physical defensive line. Vonnie Holliday, Randy Starks and rookies Kendall Langford and Phillip Merling each is drawing attention inside that has helped create more single-blocking matchups for Porter. Opponents have even had trouble finding the flexibility to chip with a back or tight end.

The Dolphins also seem to be playing more to Porter's strengths -- and just playing him more, period. He often dropped into coverage in Dom Capers' hybrid scheme last year, and Porter sometimes left the field in nickel situations (which sounds crazy given his sack production this year). But Porter is almost exclusively rushing off the edge under new coordinator Paul Pasqualoni, and he is playing in odd and even fronts, base and nickel, sometimes even out of a three-point stance.

The truth is, Porter hasn't changed. He may be healthier and a bit more experienced. For the most part, though, he's the same player -- only now he's getting better opportunities.

Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.