On the first day of training camp, the linebacker lineup was Jelani Jenkins, Koa Misi, and Chris McCain. In the second day of camp, there was one substitution and some rearranging. Veteran linebacker Kelvin Sheppard took over Misi spot at middle linebacker, and Misi was moved back outside to a more familiar position.
It's been highly expected by Dolphins fans that Chris McCain would eventually emerge as the clear favorite to win the job at SLB, but there have also been opposing reports saying that the Dolphins would rather have Sheppard in the middle with Misi on the outside. Clearly, it's a combination of both in an attempt to see who the better choice is.
"This is the time where we want to create a competitive atmosphere at every single position, the job really of the coach is to put players in a position to be successful." said head coach Joe Philbin during his camp press conference. "We know all of those guys have some really outstanding traits and qualities and instincts and toughness and passion for the game."
It's clear to anyone that knows the team that both McCain and Sheppard have a great passion for the game, and they each have their own strengths and weaknesses in the game. As a result, the coaches have deemed it necessary to experiment with their players, which includes the linebackers.
"We're looking to find the exact right combination of who works best with one another, who communicates best with one another, who has the most production when they’re out there." Philbin said. "Obviously, playing linebacker in the running game is about getting off of blocks and making tackles."
McCain knows how to get off blocks, and he's got the potential to be an elite pass-rusher. But his biggest weakness is his inability to cover, which is likely why Sheppard is getting such a hard look in the middle in order to allow Misi back outside. There's also the factor that Sheppard is a better on-field communicator.
"It wasn’t necessarily that as much as we’ve liked the way he’s caught on to how we do things here, both from he’s fit into the locker room extremely well, we think he’s got an excellent grasp of the defensive scheme and so I think he’s just fit in well." Philbin said of Sheppard. "He’s got good enthusiasm for the game, he seems to be a good communicator out there. We want to provide an opportunity to see if he’s the best guy.”
Both Sheppard and McCain will be battling it out for the third linebacker spot, albeit at different positions. Now pads are on, and things are serious. We'll see how it turns out.
This story was written by Luis Sung. Follow him on Twitter: @FLSportDebater
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