The linebacker position was an issue last season that needed addressing. I wrote about it leading up to the draft. It can be found here.
It was a frustrating situation. Dannell Ellerbee and Philip Wheeler were brought in to inject youth and speed to the linebacking corps. They were expected to improve an already solid front seven. They did not.
How bad were the results? During the second half of the Tampa Bay game I suggested that one of them should be cut. Not by the end of the season, not after the game. I wanted them cut right there on the field, take their playbook and make them walk home. If nothing else that would have sent a message.
Ok. Maybe that would have been a little extreme. However, improvement must happen this offseason. As a group we need to see better angles, quicker recognition and more consistent effort. Can last years starters step up their game or is it time for the next man to step up?
Koa Misi: Misi was one of the few bright spots for the Dolphins at the linebacker position last season. He was consistently solid playing the strongside outside linebacker position. This year the five-year veteran takes on a new challenge-middle linebacker. His athleticism and motor should serve him well in the middle. The question will be is this a solution or merely a Band-Aid to the linebacking woes.
Dannell Ellerbee: When he came over from the Baltimore Ravens Ellerbee was expected to excel at middle linebacker. After all he had filled in for future Hall-of-Famer Ray Lewis during the Ravens Super Bowl run. Seemed like a no brainer. Did not work out that way. Perhaps the change from a 3-4 to the 4-3 slowed his progress. This season Ellerbee is expected to lineup on the strongside, which it is felt is a more natural position for him.
Philip Wheeler: If anyone is on a short leash this season it is Philip Wheeler. Watching him last season I saw so many bad angles and even worse at times I saw a lack of effort getting to the ball carrier. While the other two starters have switched positions, I expect Wheeler to have competition for his starting job. He may be better in a pass rushing specialist role than as a full time starter.
Jelani Jenkins: The second year player out of the University of Florida took some time to adjust to the NFL. When he finally did he started taking some snaps away from Wheeler. If he continues to progress and more importantly impress he may have an outside shot at taking the starting job. While still a little raw I see tremendous upside to Jenkins.
Jason Trunsik: Trunsik has been the break in case of emergency linebacker for the last few seasons. He is a good, solid backup at all three positions. While good I feel he simply does not have the upside necessary. Sadly someone else taking his spot may be the surest sign of progress for the position overall.
Jordan Tripp: The fifth round pick out of Montana is intriguing. He has the skills to play at all three linebacker positions. During OTAs it seemed they were training him at all positions. Whether this is to take advantage of his versatility or to simply find where he fits best remains to be seen. From my own personal scouting I see him as a future middle linebacker. Until he finds his way into the starting lineup he should find a home on special teams, where he should excel.
What little I have seen and heard so far about the linebackers has been promising. I simply hope they can step up and put the memories of 2013 far in the past.