After youth movement, Dolphins' linebackers disappointed in 2013
FEB 12, 2014 2:30p ET
The Miami Dolphins took an "out with the old, in with the younger" approach for their 2013 linebacker corps.
The results were not what the Dolphins had hoped for.
A defense ranked 13th (108.4 rpg) against the run in 2012 fell to 24th (124.9) this past season. Miami gave up 125 or more yards rushing in 10 different games.
Dansby and Burnett, meanwhile, played well for their new teams. Dansby led Arizona in tackles, passes defensed, interceptions and had 6.5 sacks. Burnett recorded 105 tackles (83 solo) with 2.5 sacks for Oakland.
The Dolphins already have taken steps to improve the unit, hiring former Jacksonville Jaguars assistant Mark Duffner to replace George Edwards as linebackers coach. Edwards became Minnesota Vikings defensive coordinator.
Philip Wheeler, OLB -- His production was disappointing after signing a 5-year, $26 million free-agent deal in the spring following one year in Oakland. Wheeler was basically exchanged for Burnett. He had 118 tackles (83 solo) and half a sack but struggled covering backs.
Dannell Ellerbe, MLB -- A member of the 2012 Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens, Ellerbe was signed to a 5-year, $34.75 million contract to provide leadership and a strong presence in the middle. He had 101 tackles (70 solo) and a sack but was among those to blame for the poor run defense.
Koa Misi, OLB -- The strongside linebacker had 54 tackles (34 solo) this past season after agreeing to a four-year extension following a solid 2012. Like Wheeler, his coverage ability was not a strength in '13.
Jelani Jenkins, OLB -- A fourth-round pick from Florida in last year's draft, Jenkins played in all 16 games. He finished with 17 tackles (15 solo) and showed coverage ability. He could press Wheeler for playing time next season, and perhaps unseat the veteran in 2015.
Jason Trusnik, LB -- The seven-year pro started twice (once each for then-injured Ellerbe and Misi) in 2013, his third season with Miami. He finished with 25 tackles (20 solo). A solid special teams player and positive locker-room presence, he's one who accepts his role.
Jonathan Freeny, LB -- Another backup who contributed on special teams, the undrafted free agent from Rutgers closed out the season with 13 tackles (10 solo).
POSSIBLE FREE-AGENT TARGETS
Due to guaranteed money to starters in 2014, it's very unlikely the Dolphins look to free agency for linebacker help.
BEST DRAFT OPTIONS
Miami could seek outside LB depth via the draft, most likely during the middle rounds. If so, players who could be among those considered include Southern California's Morgan Breslin, Alabama's Adrian Hubbard, Utah's Trevor Reilly and even Missouri's Michael Sam, who could move from defensive end to OLB while trying to become the first openly gay NFL player. Then again, perhaps last year's top pick Dion Jordan could attempt a similar move, going from edge rusher to OLB.
The Dolphins need better play from their linebackers in 2014 to have a winning season and possibly earn a playoff berth. Doing a better job in coverage is a must, as is improving against the run. Ellerbe and Wheeler will have the chance to rebound off subpar '13 seasons. They better, or they'll likely be gone in '15.