Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Reader Question: D-Line/O-Line Upgrades

Today, I'd like to answer a couple of questions I received from a reader:

What positions on the Dolphins O line and D line are in need of an upgrade? Do you think Samson Satele is able to play a position other than center?

As far as the D-line goes, the biggest upgrades this team needs have to do with youth that we can get into the system and develop into starters and significant rotation players. Jason Ferguson can get the job done in 2009 and maybe 2010, but it's not a good idea to go the Keith Traylor route that we went down a few years back, where we signed an old nose tackle and then just rode him till the wheels came off essentially, without ever grooming his replacement.

The nose tackle is the linchpin position in our defense, and it would be unwise to ignore it this offseason. Ferguson is going to need to take more plays off every year going forward, and neither myself nor the team is sold on Paul Soliai as his replacement. It's critical to get another young NT onto the team and start grooming him.

As for the defensive ends, I'm okay with Phillip Merling and Kendall Langford as our future starters, but again, we need more quality depth behind them. We can't count on Vonnie Holliday being back next season, and if he leaves, the rotation certainly takes a hit. Randy Starks can certainly fill a lot of Holliday's snaps, but there is a need for someone else. It's not a huge priority considering the other needs on this team, but it is a need.

On the opposite side of the ball, we are really only set at left tackle with Jake Long. If we re-sign Vernon Carey, then we will also be set at right tackle. I think continuity along the line is one of the most underrated aspects of its success, and unless there is a tremendously better option available to replace Carey, I think we should re-sign him. If we don't, it just creates a massive hole that can only be filled through a big contract, a high draft pick, or both.

Justin Smiley and Donald Thomas should go into training camp as the starters at left and right guard respectively, but their health is a major question. We can't just assume they will be at 100%. Smiley's shoulder injuries are especially problematic because they continue to happen. We don't know how good Donald Thomas really is, and the promise he showed last year may be reality or a fluke. We can't assume he'll be able to step right back into the starting lineup this season and provide a much better option than Ikechuku Ndukwe.

And then we get to center. It recently came out that Samson Satele played much of 2008 with a shoulder injury. That could go a long way in explaining why his play dropped off so noticeably from his rookie season. If he can get back to full health in time for training camp, I think he should be given another opportunity to claim the starting center spot, but if he can't, he does provide great flexibility as a backup since he can play both guard spots and center.

Nevertheless, that's a lot of questions surrounding the middle of the offensive line, and the team should not put all of its eggs in one basket by simply hoping all the players will return fully healthy and without diminished abilities. More quality depth is needed at every position along the line.

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