Every NFL team has a set idea of the traits incoming players need to have to be productive, and in the case of the Miami Dolphins, there's no shortage of positions - particularly on defense - that need an infusion of talent if the team is to have any hope of repeating their 2016 success.
This means that Miami will have to evaluate their roster and decide which positions need the most work in the offseason. This will inevitably lead the front office to the fact that the linebacker position is in a severe state of disarray, with Jelani Jenkins being a disappointment as of late - on top of needing a new contract - and Koa Misi trying to recover from a potentially career-ending injury.
This just leaves Kiko Alonso, who is also a free agent, albeit a restricted one, as the only good linebacker Miami has left. This means that linebacker will be a very heavily scouted position in both free agency and in the draft, and there are certain traits that the Dolphins are looking for in new players.
“I think the big thing for us is finding guys that are instinctive, guys that are tough guys, but also have the ability to play in space." General Manager Chris Grier said Wednesday at the Senior Bowl. "I think the one thing we talked about with (Head Coach) Adam (Gase) as well is improving team speed on defense.
"Again, the way the game is played now, it’s a little more in the passing and space, but you also still have those guys, like I said in the run game, that can hold up inside and make plays, are instinctive, can beat blocks and find plays. For us, again it’s finding guys that are productive – a good history of production, smart, intelligent and can run a little bit.”
With new defensive coordinator Matt Burke likely to maintain the usage of the Wide-9 technique on defense, improving the linebackers is an absolute necessity if the defense is to improve after 2016's statistical failure. The Dolphins were ranked 30th against the run, giving up 4.8 yards per carry and repeatedly getting gashed by patient runners who simply waited for a hole and got large chunks of yardage at the worst possible times.
The Wide-9 works in the NFL, it has been proven as such by teams in the past, but for the scheme to work, it requires excellent linebacker play, something that Miami has not had since the days of Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett, who were chased off by then head coach Joe Philbin due to their outspoken tendencies.
Linebacker must be a top priority this offseason, whether in the draft or in free agency. If not, expect more of the same on defense, and if that happens, it's very unlikely that the Dolphins will make the playoffs a second time.
This story was written by Luis Sung. Follow him on Twitter: @LuisDSung
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