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2013 Training Camp Preview: Linebackers

Posted Jul 17, 2013

Ellerbe and Wheeler signify changing of the guard.



Head Coach Joe Philbin and defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle will see a different looking linebacker corps from the one they fielded in 2012 and the biggest changes are in the middle. Gone are veterans Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett, replaced by young free agents Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler and they bring with them some much-needed playmaking skills.

Returning starter Koa Misi already proved how much more comfortable he is in Coyle’s 4-3 defense than he was before and Ellerbe and Wheeler will try to quickly develop a chemistry with him. Austin Spitler and Jason Trusnik’s, the two primary backups last season, are back to fight for their jobs and bring familiarity to the unit. v Jonathan Freeny and Josh Kaddu got their feet wet last year as rookies, but the Dolphins used a fourth-round pick on Jelani Jenkins out of the University of Florida to add depth to the group and make a push for one of those backup spots or perhaps even a starting spot.

BREAKING DOWN DOLPHINS LINEBACKERS

• Jelani Jenkins (6-0, 243) — Jenkins was the first of three Florida Gators drafted by Miami in April and started 31 of 36 career games in the competitive SEC, racking up 182 tackles (109 solo), six sacks and 17 tackles for loss. The fourth-round pick could push Koa Misi for playing time if he has a strong training camp and has the skills that Coyle likes in his linebackers.

• Philip Wheeler (6-2, 240) — A solid season as a full-time starter with the Oakland Raiders in 2012 made Wheeler attractive to the Dolphins for the second time and now he will try to form a strong foundation in the middle with Ellerbe. He racked up 110 tackles (78 solo), three sacks, two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and broke up six passes in 16 games and brings a high motor to Coyle’s athletic defense.

• Austin Spitler (6-2, 250) — Spitler held down one of the backup inside linebacker spots last season and appeared in 15 games, recording two solo tackles – both at the New York Jets – and recovering a fumble while adding six special teams tackles. He was a seventh-round pick out of Ohio State in 2010 and has shown a knack going from being written off to earning a spot on the active roster, but he will have to fight off some tough competition from the rookies.

• Koa Misi (6-3, 254) — Last season was Misi’s best of his young career as he finished with 60 tackles (47 solo), 3.5 sacks and four passes defensed in just 14 games, all starts. A second-round pick out of Utah back in 2010, Misi made a seamless transition to Coyle’s 4-3 scheme and really excelled as an extra defensive end in some alignments, but he will get some pressure the rookie Jenkins in camp.

• Jonathan Freeny (6-2, 250) — Freeny got stronger as last season progressed and quickly earned the praise of Coyle and Philbin, in turn earning more playing time. The South Florida native had five tackles in the season finale at the New England Patriots and finished with seven (five solo) to go along with seven special teams tackles and if he picks up where he left off, Freeny should be able to hold off any challenges in camp for his roster spot.

• Josh Kaddu (6-3, 246) — The Dolphins liked what they saw out of Kaddu in practice during his one month on the practice squad last season and signed him to the active roster prior to the Week 6 home game against the St. Louis Rams. He appeared in five games and is expected to be one of the players to watch in training camp as he tries to take that next step.

• Dannell Ellerbe (6-1, 245) — It’ll be hard to top the experience Ellerbe enjoyed last season with the Baltimore Ravens when he led them with nine tackles in their 34-31 win over the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII and racked up a career-high 89 tackles (66 solo) and 4.5 sacks in 13 regular-season games. His fifth season will be spent in Miami and Coyle is counting on him to be the quarterback of his defense while adding that element of speed and youth he has been looking for, which will be on display early in camp.

• Jason Trusnik (6-4, 252) — Trusnik in his third season with the Dolphins and has been nothing but reliable in whatever role he’s been asked to fill, especially on special teams where he led the team with 12 tackles. The Ohio native started two games at linebacker last year and finished with 13 tackles (seven solo) but Jenkins could also push him in training camp.

There are four other linebackers looking to crack the 53-man roster or at least be assigned to the practice squad – former CFL player Lee Robinson and undrafted rookie free agents Alonzo Highsmith, Jr., David Hinds and Michael Clay.

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