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2021 Miami Dolphins Training Camp Preview: Interior Defensive Line

Today, our training camp preview series gives us a closer look at the interior defensive linemen. Since the Dolphins defense calls for such a great deal of flexibility, we're defining interior defensive linemen as players who lined up at the 4-technique (head up over the offensive tackle) or inside of that alignment on the majority of their snaps in 2020. To reserve your spot at Miami Dolphins training camp, click the photo below.

Personnel Changes

Table inside Article
Additions Departures
Adam Butler (NE) Davon Godchaux (NE
John Jenkins (CHI)
Jerome Johnson (2021 UDFA)

Coaching Staff

After one season as outside linebackers coach, Austin Clark is taking over the defensive line, the same group he coached at the University of Illinois from 2018-19. Prior to his stop at Illinois, Clark coached the defensive line and outside linebackers at USC.

Under Clark's tutelage in 2020, Miami improved from 32nd to 10th in sacks with 41 on the season. For the first time in franchise history, Miami had three linebackers total at least five sacks (Jerome Baker had seven, Kyle Van Noy had six and Andrew Van Ginkel finished with 5.5).

Group at a Glance

Fitting the theme of the previous positional previews, the Dolphins interior defensive linemen come equipped with versatility. The majority of the players below have played reps on the edge, in addition to their work inside. That flexibility helps keep offenses guessing. The mystery of which rushers are coming, and who is dropping in coverage, remains just that for the opposition.

Christian Wilkins was the first draft pick of the Chris Grier/Brian Flores regime in 2019 and he's helped establish the culture while producing 103 total tackles, seven tackles for loss, an interception, 3.5 sacks and seven passes defensed in his two seasons. Raekwon Davis, a rookie in 2020, registered 40 tackles in his first season, while Zach Sieler made 48 tackles, 11 for loss and recorded 3.5 sacks last year. Second-year tackle Benito Jones played in six games as a rookie in 2020.

The Dolphins added new faces to the group, as well. Adam Butler arrives from New England where he played all over the defensive line, tallying 15 sacks in four seasons. John Jenkins is returning to his former stomping grounds, where he notched 39 tackles as a member of the Dolphins in 2019. . Jerome Johnson, an 2021 undrafted free agent in 2021, enters his first camp as a pro.

The Cast

The former Indiana Hoosier finished his college career with 111 tackles, 13.5 sacks and 21 tackles for loss. He also forced a pair of fumbles, blocked a field goal and recorded an interception. Pro Football Focus credited Johnson with 61 QB pressures on 874 career pass rush reps with 60 run stops (tackles within two yards of the line of scrimmage) on 776 run-down snaps.

Butler offers a plethora of traits along the defensive line, perhaps none more beneficial to the team than his consistency. Pro Football Focus charted Butler's four seasons as a pro with 28, 26, 26 and 27 QB pressures. He also averaged 13.5 run stops per season  (tackles within two yards of the line of scrimmage, PFF) on just 489 total snaps on run defense (11 percent run stop rate).

Pairing brute strength with an explosive first step, Butler often gets his hands on the opposition early and can control the rep from there. He's both a penetrator and a disciplined two-gap tackle with positional flexibility.

After enjoying a career-year in 2019 with the Dolphins, Jenkins is back after a productive stop in Chicago. Over the last two seasons, the 327-pound defensive tackle piled up 55 tackles, two tackles for loss and a sack. The eight-year veteran added 17 QB pressures over the 2019-2020 seasons.

A waiver claim in December of 2019, Sieler is a true success story. Originally a seventh-round pick of the Ravens out of Ferris State, Sieler parlayed a strong finish to the 2019 campaign into the most productive year of his career en route to a three-year contract extension with Miami. Sieler comes equipped with freaky measurables. Since 2000, three players posted the following combination of workout numbers in the run up to the draft – 6-foot-5, 285-plus pounds, sub 4.85 40-yard dash, 30-plus reps of 225 lbs. on the bench press, 115-plus inches on the broad jump and a 3-cone time under 7.15. Those players are Mario Williams, J.J. Watt and Zach Sieler.

Sieler finished 2020 with 25 QB pressures, 32 run stops, 3.5 sacks, 48 total tackles and 11 tackles for loss.

Since entering the league in 2020, Wilkins has been among the most productive defensive tackles in his draft class – a class that featured Quinnen Williams, Ed Oliver, Dexter Lawrence and Jeffery Simmons. He's registered 103 total tackles, 3.5 sacks seven passes defensed, an interception, 48 QB pressures and 59 run stops.

Wilkins' biggest strength has been his run defense. He finished sixth in ESPN's run stop win rate among defensive tackles at 41 percent.

Last season, after returning from COVID-IR in Week 12, Wilkins finished out the string 15th among defensive tackles with 10 pressures and 10th in run stops (12).

Signing as an undrafted free agent in 2020 with Miami, Jones made his NFL debut in the Week 6 shutout victory over the Jets. A stout 6-foot-1, 329 pounds, Jones is a space-eating nose tackle with a solid anchor, active hands and impressive agility for his play strength. Jones made two tackles (one for a loss) on 47 snaps as a rookie.

One of college football's most impactful interior defensive lineman from the moment he stepped on the field as a freshman, Davis continued to excel in his first season in the NFL.

Davis played in all 16 games (12 starts) in his rookie year, finishing with 40 tackles. Half of those tackles occurred within two yards of the line of scrimmage (run stop stat via PFF) and the rookie added 14 QB pressures. The stat sheet didn't fully explain  Davis' impact in the second half of the season; he absorbed double teams, created chances for his teammates and often won his gap. As Head Coach Brian Flores often says, players don't have to fill up the stat sheet to have a true impact, and that was especially true of Davis' tape (Wilkins and Sieler could say the same).

"Sometimes it's not necessarily the sack total but I think you can watch a game and see that a quarterback feels us. I think that's essentially what you're looking for," Flores said following the 29-21 win over the L.A. Chargers.

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