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Miami Dolphins

Focus Group – Defensive Tackle

Andrew Mitchell

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The Miami Dolphins went into this offseason with lots of tough decisions to make in a multitude of ways; who to let walk, who to trade, who to trade for, who to sign as a free agent, who to draft, etc. We are in end stages of the NFL offseason, where training camp is on the horizon and teams will have most of their position groups filled with candidates to make the final 53-man roster.

One of the groups that underwent some change is the Defensive Tackle position. Often seen as a position of strength, the Defensive Tackle group was led by Ndamukong Suh, arguably the best interior defensive lineman in the league. The issue with Suh was the Dolphins never excelled as a unit. Suh did his part and continued to dominate as an individual and was paid accordingly.

However, the unit itself was average. The Dolphins signed Suh to Quarterback money sized contract back in 2015 and just last season the run defense ranked 14th in the league, not quite the return Stephen Ross and Co. had hoped for on such a large investment, physically and monetarily.

 

Mar 11, 2015; Davie, FL, USA; Miami Dolphins defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh (right) and Dolphins owner Stephen Ross (left) both field questions from reporters during a press conference at Doctors Hospital Training Facility. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

 

Addition by subtraction, right? Suh was always a great individual player but not always the best “team” player, which is what the Miami Dolphins set out to do this offseason, create a change in the “culture.” After they cut Suh, they were left with a very large gap in the middle and now created a position of need to add on top of the other multitude of needs.

Then came free agency and the draft, where many fans and analysts were assuming the Dolphins would fill the need one way or another, right? Wrong. They did nothing, in this case I think doing nothing was doing something.

As we get closer to Training Camp the position group looks young, raw and no doubt is one of the more questionable units for the Dolphins heading into the 2018 season. Currently, they are looking to start Davon Godchaux, who had a stellar rookie campaign last season, and incumbent Jordan Phillips. Phillips has flashed some dominance in the past but also has had some lackluster moments as well. If Phillips and Godchaux can continue to grow we may be alright. Behind them the Dolphins traded for Akeem Spence, who previously played in Detroit with Dolphins’ new Defensive Line coach Kris Kocurek. Spence is a stout and quick DT that will no doubt help rotating in and out of the lineup.

There is also 2nd year pro Vincent Taylor and they resigned defensive end William Hayes, whom the Dolphins had said may rotate inside on obvious passing downs. Hayes, in my opinion, was one of the better acquisitions from last season until he was injured. He showed great strength in setting the edge and being a classic run stopper. Moving him inside on obvious 3rd and longs makes a ton of sense and gives the defensive line plenty of flexibility.

As it stands, those are the 4 notable defensive tackles. With Hayes preferred position being defensive end, there could be room for one more defensive tackle and there are a few candidates: Gabe Wright, 3-year pro out of Auburn who was signed to Miami’s practice squad last season before being promoted to the 53-man roster in December, Jamyius Pittman an undrafted free agent out of UCF and Anthony Moten an undrafted free agent out of the University of Miami.

One thing the Dolphins have been successful at recently is discovering undrafted free agents who ultimately end up contributing to the team in some way, shape or form. I would keep an eye on one of the 2 undrafted rookies to possibly beat out Gabe Wright for that 4th spot if the Dolphins decide to keep 4 on the roster in addition to William Hayes kicking inside in the rotation on passing downs.

While the Dolphins may project to be raw on the interior DL, they could form to be quite the group in numbers. If healthy, it is possible, but I think it is a position to watch and could end up becoming somewhat of a priority next offseason pending Jordan Phillips declines and proves he is not worth a 2nd contract with the organization.

Ultimately, a top-4 rotation of Godchaux, Phillips, Spence and Hayes could prove to get the job done with an improved linebacker unit and much speed added in total to the defensive side of the ball. Training Camp will provide much more clarity to this unit, with pads on we will see what these guys are about and if they are willing to step up and fill the Suh-sized hole that was formed over this offseason.

Andrew is a lifelong Dolphins’ fan that has a deep passion for sports. He has a Multimedia Journalism Degree from Florida Atlantic University and also has interned for ESPN Radio. For all his opinions and articles you can follow him on Twitter: @mitchpr0

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