Hope and Concern: Dolphins' linebackers


Training camp is less than two months away. In the meantime, we'll examine key questions with the team heading into another important season.

Next, we take a look at the Dolphins' starting linebackers, who were inconsistent last year.

Biggest reason for concern: No middle linebacker

The Dolphins lack a natural middle linebacker with starting experience. This was a major reason this group could not find any consistency last year. The Dolphins were ranked 24th against the run, struggled to defend tight ends and slot receivers and often worn down in the fourth quarters. Miami invested sizable contract extensions to starting linebackers Dannell Ellerbe, Philip Wheeler and Koa Misi. So far those decisions appear to be mistakes. Miami searched for an alternative solution in free agency when they hosted D'Qwell Jackson, who later signed with the Indianapolis Colts. The Dolphins also didn’t draft a linebacker until Jordan Tripp in the fifth round. Miami appears to be sticking with its struggling trio this season by default.

Biggest reason for hope: Position switch

The Dolphins are trying to shake things up with what they have. The starters are the same. But Miami’s coaching staff is hoping a significant experiment at middle linebacker pays off this season. The Dolphins are moving Misi from outside linebacker to middle linebacker. Ellerbe will take Misi’s spot at outside linebacker. This is a more natural spot for Ellerbe, which should enable him to make more big plays this season. Meanwhile, Misi has increased responsibility and must now take over lining up the defense and calling plays. So far Misi has impressed Miami’s coach staff. “We think he has great leadership qualities,” Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said of Misi. “We think his play has certainly exemplified that over the course of period of time that I’ve been here. He plays football the right way, so we are going to see how we adjust to that position and how he relates to the other players at his position and the defense in general. So far he’s done a nice job.” This is also the second year together for Ellerbe, Wheeler and Misi. That could help in the chemistry department.