Monday, August 24, 2009

Training Camp Roster Breakdown 2009: Linebackers

Next up in the series of training camp positional previews are the linebackers.

Charlie Anderson
Anderson is very close to being another free agent bust. The team handed him a sizable contract worth $2.5 million a year and he did very little to earn that cash last season. He was given an opportunity last offseason to take over Jason Taylor's vacant starting position, but he was quickly eclipsed by Matt Roth. The most action he saw was as a situational pass rusher, but even in that role he only recorded 15 tackles and 2.5 sacks. A lot of fans think he really turned it on late last season, but the only thing they can probably remember him doing was blocking a punt, which while nice, is useless from a projection standpoint. And besides, if 2.5 sacks is turning it on, well then the team should probably be looking in another direction - and that they did, by signing Cameron Wake. Still, the team might not be willing to give up on Anderson after just one year and he'll have a chance to make the team, but he'll have to battle with Erik Walden and Quentin Moses. If nothing else, Anderson was active on special teams, finishing with 13 tackles, although he also committed several boneheaded penalties on special teams as well.

Akin Ayodele
Ayodele flies under the radar on this team, but he's still a useful player to have on the roster. He has his obvious limitations in pass coverage where he is below average, and as a pass rusher he is useless. Over the past two seasons, Ayodele has registered zero sacks, zero QB hits, and only three QB hurries. But as a run defender, Ayodele generally shines. He is the team's best run-stuffing MLB, and only Matt Roth is a better run-stuffer than him among the LBs. With Ayodele, you know what you're getting, and I don't expect that to change this season.

Channing Crowder
There was some question this offseason about whether the team would re-sign Crowder or let him walk as a free agent. The front office locked him up with a fair three-year deal that will see him stay on as the team's starting MLB for the foreseeable future. Never a good pass rusher, Crowder did take a small step in the right direction last year, recording 5 QB hits and 8 hurries, as opposed to his 2007 totals of 3 and 6. His run-stopping ability, while still average, also took small steps forward last year. Where he saw the most improvement was in coverage, increasing his success rate vs. passes from 31% up to 51%. There was a definite learning curve last year as Crowder took over the reigns of the defense formerly held by Zach Thomas, but if he can continue his gradual improvement this year, particularly against the run, the defense will be well-served. Crowder's been serviceable up to this point in his career, but I think there's still a ways to go before he reaches his ceiling.

J.D. Folsom
Folsom was such an unknown coming out of Weber State that even he didn't think he would be drafted and had already begun planning for veterinary school. He doesn't fit the Parcells/Ireland size requirements for LBs, as he is just 6'3, 228 lbs. What Folsom does bring to the table though is speed and special teams skills. He's a super long shot to make the team, but he would be a nice practice squad candidate.

William Kershaw
Kershaw was signed to Miami's practice squad in October of last year and was then called up to the active roster in December. He appeared in one game and was inactive for another. In his one game against the Chiefs, he made an impact on special teams, finishing with two tackles and a forced fumble. He's a candidate to make the team as a backup MLB, but I just don't think he offers enough to justify the roster spot.

Quentin Moses
Moses is an interesting development project. He showed enough in college to be a third-round draft pick, but then was cut by two teams before his rookie season even began. Miami then signed him and he's stuck around for two years. He hasn't showed anything really impressive during that time as he completed the transition from DE to OLB, but he has been improving. He's still only 25 years old and he likely has a higher upside than Charlie Anderson. It might be worth it to keep Moses over Anderson as a situational pass rusher and allow him to continue his development in this system.

Joey Porter
In his second season with the Dolphins, Porter returned to the 3-4 OLB position that he had excelled in during his time with the Steelers. And boy did that work wonders for him! He finished second in the league with 17.5 sacks, and added 6 QB hits and 12 hurries. Porter essentially had the entire duty of pass pressure put on his shoulders since no one else on the defense could seem to generate any kind of consistent pressure, and he responded better than anyone could have imagined. Of course, teams eventually figured out a way to neutralize his pass rush - run the ball right at him. In the last quarter of the season, this was a common tactic and Porter just ran out of steam. This was also an effective tactic because of how poorly Porter played against the run. On the surface, he actually improved his numbers on runs against him where he actually made the stop. Unfortunately, most of the time he was simply ridden out of the play by a blocker. KC Joyner found that Porter faced 82 Point of Attack runs and he defeated his blocker on only 8 of those plays, for an absolutely pathetic 9.8% win rate. He also allowed an average of 5.6 yards per attempt on those plays. Now 32 years old, it's almost impossible to expect another campaign with such gaudy pass rush numbers, but he'll still produce in that area. Where he needs to focus is the run game.

Matt Roth
Roth has had a perplexing offseason so far. There were stories that he had lied to the team about an illness that was actually a groin injury and that he's been medically cleared to play but yet he remains inactive on the Non-Football Injury list. No one really knows what's going on here other than the fact that Roth is yet to play in a single training camp practice thus far. In his absence, Jason Taylor has taken over the starting OLB spot opposite Joey Porter. Regardless of who starts, each player will get a lot of playing time in a rotation. The bigger issue is how much playing time Roth is risking by sitting out this long. If the majority of the snaps are being handled by Porter and Taylor, the team is going to be in trouble since it will be virtually impossible to stop the run. Roth really blossomed in his full-time transition to outside LB last season. Whereas he was too small to hold up against blockers as a DE, he is a dominant run-stopper as an OLB. His stop% against runs last year was 78% according to Football Outsiders, which was 15th best in the league. He also had a 24.6% POA win rate according to Joyner. Roth also improved a bit as a pass rusher last year, tallying 5 sacks, 2 hits, and 5 hurries. The team really needs him to return to the field ASAP.

Jason Taylor
The prodigal son returns! Taylor is back in Miami after his one-year hiatus in Washington, which turned out to be a bit of a lost season for Taylor. The Redskins had him playing out of position and then he went down with a serious leg injury. He's healthy now and back in the position where he saw so much success just a few years ago. He's also 35 years old now and no one should expect the same kind of production from Taylor that he put up so consistently in his first run with the team. He's definitely lost a step or three from his prime, but his game intelligence allows him to make up for some of his physical shortcomings. The plan was to use Taylor as a situational pass rusher, but Roth's extended absence has forced him into a starting role. That's a role he's no longer suited for since he is such a liability against the run. Of all the players currently on Miami's roster, Taylor had the worst stop% vs. the run last year, at 63%. He allowed an average of 3.7 yards on those runs where he made the stop (It was 68% and 3.6 yds in 2007). Taylor can be an effective, disruptive force for this team, but he needs to be in a rotation with Roth in order to avoid getting worn down and run over.

Reggie Torbor
Torbor was rather underwhelming in his first season in Miami, coming off the bench as the primary backup MLB. He didn't show any impressive pass rushing or coverage abilities. He was adequately stout against the run though. Coaches say that he has been improving this offseason, and with his experience, he provides a decent stopgap in case an injury strikes. He was also very active on special teams, tallying 11 tackles.

Cameron Wake
I've already written extensively about Wake on this site, so I'll just repeat some of those things here:

Signing Wake from the CFL was akin to a baseball team signing a dominant player from one of the Dominican or Japanese leagues. The talent level he faced up there obviously doesn't compare to what he'll see in the NFL, but dominance is dominance, and I'm interested in any young player who has already achieved that kind of production on a professional level. He may not be any good against the run, but he's a top prospect because of his singular ability to pressure opposing quarterbacks.

Is Wake going to step right in and deliver double digit sacks like he was doing in Canada? Nope. But people shouldn't expect him to. He's likely going to be one of the bottom linebackers on the depth chart this season, so his playing time may be sporadic. He has a lot to learn, especially when it comes to stopping the run, before he is granted any role larger than what Charlie Anderson held last year. But like I said, I'd much rather have Wake taking those limited snaps this year and improving his game so that he can hopefully have a bigger role next year.
The big issue with Wake is that his pass rush moves seem to be limited at the moment to simply speed rushing past the defender. There will be times when that's not enough, and as defenders scout him they will be ready to stop it. He needs to develop a secondary move in order to acclimate to the NFL game.

Erik Walden
Miami claimed Walden off waivers in November last year and he was immediately put to use on special teams where he proved to be especially adept. In six games with Miami, he recorded 5 special teams tackles. Before coming to the Dolphins, he had recorded 10 special teams tackles with Kansas City. Whether he can be a factor as a linebacker remains to be seen, but his special teams prowess should earn him a spot on the roster.


Here's my predicted depth chart:
OLB - Jason Taylor
ILB - Akin Ayodele
ILB - Channing Crowder
OLB - Joey Porter

1. Matt Roth
2. Reggie Torbor
3. Cameron Wake
4. Erik Walden
5. Quentin Moses

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