During the 2017 season, the Miami Dolphins linebacking corps could be generously summed up in a single word.
When projected starting middle linebacker Raekwon McMillan went down with a torn ACL in the preseason, the Dolphins scrambled to assemble a group to man the second tier of their defense. Kiko Alonso and Lawrence Timmons manned two spots throughout most of the season, and the third spot was filled by a combination of Mike Hull, Chase Allen, and a guy the team traded away a 2018 fifth round pick to the New Orleans Saints to acquire.
Enter Stephone Anthony.
So far in 2018, Anthony is leading the charge to fill the third starting linebacker spot alongside Alonso and McMillan. Appearing in just eight games last year, he was limited to 133 snaps on defense.
And while it’s expected that Anthony, a former first round draft pick in 2015, would be listed ahead of rookies Jerome Baker, Quentin Poling, and Mike McCray, he’s also taking snaps ahead of Hull and Allen as well this spring.
“He earned it the same way all guys earn it - he's been working hard,” says defensive coordinator Matt Burke. “It's always difficult … to come in the middle of the season, come from a different scheme, and pick things up. Obviously, we had some injury issues last year and some other things at that position, which kind of sped that process up. But he works really hard. He works really, really hard.”
While the rookies in this year’s draft class were brought in for their speed and coverage skills (a noted sore spot on last year’s unit), they’ll likely post their initial contributions on special teams, leaving Anthony as the starter for now. That could change when fall rolls around, but for now, with a 6-foot-4, 240 pound body coupled with good speed, Anthony falls right into the body type that Burke seeks for his defense.
“Steph's been here, he has a little bit of history in the scheme,” said Burke. “So I think there's a bit of comfort level with him in terms of knowledge. I think a lot of our other linebackers are younger guys right now … That is more the dynamic of trying to let the younger linebackers kind of get up to speed a little bit before we totally throw them in the fire.”
Burke admits that things are fluid right now, as they flip-flop guys into certain spots and work through different dynamics to see who best fits, and also get players more time at different spots, so they learn the intricacies of each linebacker spot. But as of right now, Burke wants to see what Anthony brings to the table.
“I think it's good for him to have a full offseason,” says Burke. “It's tough coming in, transitioning from one system to another, so I think we're trying to really overload him a bit and give him a full offseason, a full year of coaching with us, and see what he can do."
This story was written by Eldon Jenson. Follow him on Twitter: @EJFootball
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