Continuing our Miami Dolphins training camp preview, the next position group we’ll look at is the linebackers, an area of considerable concern last year, and one that was addressed early in this year’s draft.
Much is still in flux with this group. While there is very little question which three players will start at linebacker, it remains to be seen who mans the inside and outside spots.
But there is no doubt the Dolphins will sport much more versatility in the second level of their defense this season, and defensive coordinator Matt Burke has stated that guys could be shifting places throughout the season, if not during the games themselves, depending on matchups and situations.
Standing at 6-foot-3 and 239 pounds, Alonso is the undisputed leader of this position group, at least to begin the season. As noted above, defensive coordinator Matt Burke will not be shy about moving players around to find an advantage against every scenario they may face during games.
After a rosy start as a rookie with Buffalo, followed by a disappointing two years where he was misused in Philadelphia, Alonso was exceptional for the Dolphins last season, leading the team in tackles (115), and picking off two passes, one that was returned for a walkoff touchdown against San Diego (and the infamous Conor McGregor strut in celebration).
Alonso will likely start in the middle to begin the season, but is certainly capable of shifting to the outside when needed. He should again be one of the top tacklers on the team this year.
Dolphins fans are hyped to see what this rookie can do this year. Projected by some to be a first round draft pick, the team and fans alike were ecstatic to see McMillan fall to them in the second round of the NFL draft.
Standing at 6-foot-3 and 243 pounds, McMillan was primarily a middle linebacker in college, and was named a defensive captain and led the team in tackles after contributing as a true freshman to the Buckeyes national championship in 2014.
With McMillan, the Dolphins have three players capable of playing any of the three linebacker positions, and McMillan is already on record as saying he’s willing to play any of them. The expectation is that Alonso will start the season manning the middle, but depending upon McMillan’s progress, the two could become interchangeable as the season goes on.
Entering his 11th year in the league, Timmons is the true graybeard of the linebacker corps, but nonetheless expected to man one of the outside positions, although it wouldn’t be unheard of to see him in the MIKE spot with McMillan and Alonso manning the outside spots.
Timmons experience and leadership (McMillan has already turned to him for help with diet and training) provide a much needed presence on and off the field. The first draft pick of the Mike Tomlin era in Pittsburgh, Timmons was very productive in 2016, and the Steelers wanted to keep him in town, but simply couldn’t afford to keep him, choosing to go with more youth at the position.
Timmons brings versatility, having performed admirably in everything he was asked to do in Pittsburgh, from stuffing the run to covering tight ends to blitzing.
At one point projected to be the starting outside linebacker, Misi had recurring neck issues that shelved him early last season. And with the selection of Raekwon McMillan in the draft, Misi’s future was up in the air until he took a pay cut to remain with the team.
As a stalwart run defender, a fully-healthy Misi could be a valuable rotating piece in the linebacker corps this season, but his spot on the roster isn’t fully guaranteed as he’ll need to fend off the younger players that are nipping at his heels. Expect the team to manage his playing time, but he should still be a solid contributor this season.
Hewitt came to the team in the midst of what was expected to be a rebuild of the linebacker ranks in 2014, along with undrafted free agents Zach Vigil (now with Washington) and Mike Hull. Hewitt has been the best of the bunch, playing in every game of his career so far, and serving as a spot starter in seven games.
The majority of his contributions are expected to come on special teams, barring injuries to players in front of him, but Hewitt provides much-needed depth and is expected to contribute in a continuing limited role. A noticeable lack of depth past the top six linebackers likely means Hewitt will continue to see consistent playing time again this year.
As an undrafted free agent linebacker, the best way to earn a ticket to the roster is by excelling on special teams, and that’s exactly what Hull has done. Players and coaches have raved at various times over Hull’s tenacity, and head coach Adam Gase loved his natural instincts and ability to get to the right spot during plays.
A rotational player who has been shuffled between the active roster and practice squads over the last two years, Hull will likely find solid footing on special teams again this season, and can be called upon to contribute a needs/injures require.
Lacy was signed by the Dallas Cowboys as an undrafted free agent in 2013, but was cut in the preseason. He sat out that year and then signed with the Edmonton Eskimos of the Canadian Football League. He made an immediate impact there, and rose from special teams ace to starting linebacker, playing in every game over the 2014-16 seasons.
Lacy earned workouts with several NFL teams after the 2016 CFL season, and eventually chase to sign with Miami in January. Although he comes with a lot of experience, he’ll have an adjustment from the wider fields of the CFL to the limited space on NFL playing fields.
But if his talent translates to the NFL game, he has the most potential of this fringe group to unseat one of the players ahead of him on the depth chart. Being too risky to expose to other team’s practice squads, Lacy could well have a spot on the 53-man roster at the beginning of the season, but as is always the case with fringe players, he’ll need to re-prove himself on special teams to secure that spot.
Allen comes from a small college, but the Dolphins showed interest in him prior to the NFL draft, and they like his size and speed. He likely has a decent chance at best of finding a roster spot among the players in this group, although barring injuries to the players in front of him, he’ll likely spend the majority of the season as a practice squad player. If he proves himself on special teams, he could see spot duty on game day rosters.
Barrow is a former 5th round draft pick of the Denver Broncos, where he played in all 16 games of that season, with one start. He was plucked off the practice squad by the Chicago Bears prior to the 2015 season, where he then played in all 16 games for the Bears, but had minimal impact.
He suffered a foot injury prior to the 2016 season and was then waived at the end of the year. His best shot with the Dolphins will come on special teams and as a practice squad player.
Reilly spent the 2014 and 2015 seasons with the New York Jets, playing mostly special teams. He was signed by Miami in 2016, appearing in two games with two tackles.
He’ll serve as a training camp body with an outside chance to stick as a practice squad player.
Watts is a 4th year player who has spent time with the Minnesota Vikings in 2014 and 2015. He has appeared in just nine games in his career with eight total tackles.
A fringe player who would have to make great strides to secure a practice squad spot with the Dolphins.
This story was written by Eldon Jenson. Follow him on Twitter: @EJFootball
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