Over the past two weeks, I have analyzed both the Miami Dolphins' running back and wide receiver situations. This week, I'm switching over to the defensive side of the ball and looking at the Dolphins defensive line.
The line will look a little different this year due to the team's switching from a 3-4 base defense to a 4-3. The change should benefit the defense, because as a unit, the defensive line is a lot deeper than the linebacking corps.
The Dolphins front four will look like this: Cameron Wake and Jared Odrick lined up at the ends, with Paul Soliai and Randy Starks planted between them.
Wake is arguably the most talented player on Miami's entire roster. The former CFL standout has played both outside linebacker and defensive end, and will transition to a full-time pass-rushing end this year for Miami. Wake has 122 tackles and 28 sacks over his three-year career and will be relied upon to continue making big plays this season.
Odrick will play at end opposite of Wake. Odrick, Miami's first-round pick in 2010, could have a breakout season this year. After breaking his leg and missing almost his entire rookie season, Odrick came back to register six sacks last year.
The former Penn State star played mostly defensive tackle but has proven to be a solid pass-rusher in the NFL. Odrick is 6'5", 302 pounds and a little big for a 4-3 end, but hopefully he will have a smooth transition and be a force against both the rush and the pass.
The two defensive tackles, Soliai and Starks, will anchor the line on the inside. Starks has played at both end and tackle for Miami but will be moving back to the inside, where he primarily played at the beginning of his career with the Tennessee Titans.
To the relief of Miami fans everywhere, Soliai was re-signed this past offseason to a two-year extension. Soliai is a beast at 6'4" and 355 pounds known for clogging up the middle and shutting down the run. Soliai helped Miami become the third-best defense in the NFL against the run last season, and there's no reason to think they won't be top-five again this year.
Veteran Tony McDaniel will swap in for Soliai and Starks at defensive tackle. McDaniel is 6'7" and has spent time at both tackle and end for Miami. McDaniel only played in 12 games last season but still contributed with 19 tackles and 2.5 sacks.
Olivier Vernon is a bit of a wild card on the line. The Dolphins took Vernon in the third round of the 2012 draft out of the University of Miami, hoping that he will rotate in with Wake and Odrick. Vernon has been impressive in camp thus far, and it will be a big bonus to the defense if he can contribute in his rookie season.
Those six are all guaranteed to make the team, and Miami will probably carry a seventh on the 53-man roster. Rookies Kheeston Randall, Chas Alecxih and Derrick Shelby will compete with Jamaal Westerman and Ryan Baker for the final spots.
Westerman was praised by the Sun-Sentinel's Omar Kelly for excelling during training camp, and he will probably be on the roster as either a lineman or linebacker. Shelby and Alecxih were also included in Kelly's article about players flourishing in camp.
Regardless of who claims the last roster spot, this is a deep position for Miami. Odrick is the key component here. If he can build on his success last season, this could be one of, if not the best defensive line in the entire league.
Even if Odrick falters, Vernon will be more than happy to step up and prove himself. No matter who ends up on the field, Miami will rely on them to pave the way for the rest of the defense.