Miami’s defensive coordinator in 2016 Vance Joseph left Miami to take the head coach job in Denver and linebacker coach Matt Burke stepped in as defensive coordinator in Miami. Burke has never been a coordinator at any level–always a sign of a defense due to take a step backwards. Burke is an interesting hire as his linebacker unit was not a strength in his only season in Miami.
The Dolphins were fortunate to get a full season last season from linebacker Kiko Alonso after trading for him in the offseason. Alonso had started one game over the two previous seasons after a stellar rookie season in Buffalo. While Alonso is their best tackler and athletic, his health situation means that Miami needs depth behind him.
Miami gave up over 2,200 yards on the ground last season despite the highest paid defensive tackle in the NFL, a promising young tackle in Jordan Phillips and solid defensive ends. Finishing 30th of 32 teams in rushing yards allowed and a gaudy 4.8 yards per attempt points the finger at the linebackers. This was a position in need of serious attention.
Miami did add a linebacker in Raekwon McMillan in the second round. Miami grabbed the Ohio State product in the second round as he slid on draft day. McMillan is strong tackler and flashed good instincts but lacks athleticism and big-play ability. His lack of lateral movement and ability to get off blocks devalued him in the draft.
Miami spent in free agency to bring in Lawrence Timmons from Pittsburgh once the Steelers determined he was washed up. For the Patriots, Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett feasted on Timmons trying to cover them the past few seasons as age robbed him of his athleticism. The prospect of seeing him twice this year should have Gronkowski licking his lips in anticipation of the matchup.
Koa Misi was to be the third starter and injuries limited him to just three games. Misi is an average linebacker and is approaching age 30. Jelani Jenkins stepped in last year but he left for Oakland this offseason Behind this group of a rookie and aging and injury-prone starters Miami has a trio of replacement level players who have no business starting in Neville Hewitt, Spencer Paysinger, and Donald Butler.
The linebacker group in Miami is held together with bailing wire and hope. McMillan needs to adjust to the speed of the game and Timmons’ best days are past him. Alonso and Misi are unlikely to play 16 games and there is little quality depth behind them. The linebackers hurt the Dolphins last year and look to hold back the defense again in 2017.