The Dolphins defensive line last year was pretty good. Defensive tackle Randy Starks and defensive end Cameron Wake each went to the Pro Bowl, and end/tackle hybrid Jared Odrick had a career year with 5 sacks as well.
However, along with the addition of versatile athlete Dion Jordan to the defensive line rotation comes more questions, most notably: how will the playing time be divided up among this bevy of talented players?
At first, one might think Cameron Wake and Dion Jordan as the team’s two most talented pass rushers should see the field as much as possible. While I agree with this, I don’t think Jordan should start in the Dolphins’ base defense at defensive end. Should Wake and Jordan be Miami’s starting defensive ends in base defense, they’ll likely get eaten up in the run game, as Wake and Jordan are each about 250 pounds. This is largely undersized to be consistently holding up against 320 pound offensive linemen in run defense, and something tells me the Dolphins’ offense won’t score points and force opposing teams to pass enough to justify an undersized pass rushing duo like Peyton Manning’s Colts did with Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis.
Instead, it seems the Dolphins’ best use of personnel would result from a hybrid front like the Seattle Seahawks or Denver Broncos employ.
While Cameron Wake has been a starter on the Dolphins’ defensive line for multiple seasons now and is a proven all-around player, Dion Jordan worries me. He’s young and raw, and players like that often don’t play the run well early in their careers. Therefore, instead of having Jordan start at defensive end opposite Wake, Jared Odrick is big enough to hold his own against the run (302 lbs.) but still provides pass rush, as shown by his five sacks last season. With Odrick solidifying the edge similarly to Red Bryant on the Seahawks, the Dolphins need not worry about defending the run.
And with the aforementioned Starks and Paul Soliai at the defensive tackle positions, this starting group doesn’t look much different from last year’s.
Where it becomes different is in Dion Jordan’s role. Jordan’s athletic and explosive skill set means should be highly effective in a Von Miller role; he would play strong side linebacker in a 4-3 under defense and then transition to defensive end opposite Wake in sub-packages, where he wouldn’t have to worry about playing the run and simply concentrate on using his athleticism to rush the passer. He would essentially at times be playing 3-4 outside linebacker in a 4-3 defense, since Odrick’s role primarily as a run defender means he would be playing (like Red Bryant) the five technique as a 3-4 defensive end.
Kick Odrick inside with Starks in sub-packages to rush the passer, and the Dolphins’ front four on passing downs looks like one of the better in the NFL.
Defensive end Oliver Vernon, who showed flashes of greatness on special teams last year to go along with 3.5 sacks, would likely be the Dolphins’ primary rotational defensive end used to spell Wake or Jordan.
While the Dolphins will probably have to get creative to take advantage of Dion Jordan’s ability, having too many question’s because of the addition of a player like Jordan is a good problem to have.