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2016 Training Camp Preview: Linebackers

Posted Jul 8, 2016

With the start of training camp less than a month away, Dolphins.com will break down each position. Today, we take an in-depth look at the linebackers.

The Dolphins pretty much maintained the status quo at linebacker in the offseason, but they did make one potentially important move with the acquisition of Kiko Alonso in the trade with the Philadelphia Eagles that also brought in cornerback Byron Maxwell.

Alonso is the only newcomer at the position other than rookie free agents Akil Blount, James Burgess and Tyler Gray.

The Dolphins re-signed unrestricted free agents Spencer Paysinger and James-Michael Johnson this spring to rejoin the other five returning linebackers, including starters Jelani Jenkins and Koa Misi.

From a personnel standpoint, it would appear the focus in training camp will be on determining backup roles and roster spots instead of picking starters.

BREAKING DOWN DOLPHINS LINEBACKERS

RETURNING VETERANS

Neville Hewitt (6-2, 232) — One of three rookie free agent linebackers to finish the season on the 53-man roster, Hewitt earned his spot with his work on special teams and became more and more of a factor on defense as the season progressed. It will be interesting to see how much of a role he’ll be given on defense in 2016.

Mike Hull (6-0, 233) — Unlike Hewitt and Zach Vigil, Hull didn’t make the initial 53-man roster as a rookie free agent out of camp but eventually was promoted from the practice squad and earned some playing time. He’ll be looking to make enough of an impression in camp to earn a roster spot and perhaps a bigger role.

• Jelani Jenkins (6-0, 240) — Heading into his fourth season, Jenkins is hoping the injury issues that slowed him in 2015 are long gone and he can return to the form he showed during his breakout 2014 season. Jenkins’ athleticism and coverage skills make him a good fit for new defensive coordinator Vance Joseph’s attacking scheme.

• James-Michael Johnson (6-1, 238) — Johnson had two stints with the Dolphins last season but couldn’t make much of an impact after first arriving in November. He does bring experience to a young linebacker corps, having started 18 games in his first three NFL seasons after being a fourth-round pick of the Browns in 2012.

• Koa Misi (6-3, 256) — The second-longest-tenured defensive player behind Cameron Wake, Misi is preparing for his seventh season with the Dolphins. Misi is hoping to make an impact in Joseph’s defense after being slowed by injuries the past two seasons.

• Spencer Paysinger (6-2, 249) — After signing a one-year contract as an unrestricted free agent last spring, Paysinger re-upped for another season with the Dolphins fully anticipating his role again primarily will come on special teams. His experience makes him a valuable backup, though.

• Zach Vigil (6-2, 240) — Like Hewitt, Vigil appeared in all 16 games with two starts as a rookie free agent. He made his biggest impact on special teams, most notably a blocked punt in the victory at Philadelphia, but is shooting for a bigger role on defense.

VETERAN ADDITIONS

• Kiko Alonso (6-3, 239) — The only question with Alonso is whether he can regain the form he showed as a rookie with the Buffalo Bills in 2013, and based off what we saw in the spring there’s reason to be optimistic. Alonso’s athletic ability and coverage skills made him a spectacular playmaker with the Bills during that 2013 season. If he can come close to that kind of performance, the Dolphins will be happy.

ROOKIES OR FIRST-YEAR PLAYERS

• Akil Blount (6-2, 249) — The son of Hall of Famer Mel Blount has intriguing physical skills. Before he was moved to linebacker at Florida A&M, he recorded 30 sacks as a high school defensive end.

• James Burgess (6-0, 233) — Burgess went undrafted out of Louisville because of a lack of ideal size, but he tremendous coverage ability gives him a chance to make the roster as a rookie free agent.

• Tyler Gray (6-4, 236) — A standout at Boise State, where he played with Jay Ajayi, Gray brings good size and special teams ability in his quest to earn a roster spot as a rookie free agent.

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