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AFC East Positional Breakdown: Defensive Line
By on July 15, 2014 at 3:41 pm

071514-DLIn a series leading up to the start of Dolphins training camp later this month, The Finsiders will bring you positional breakdowns of each team in the AFC East

During Tuesday’s show, The Finsiders discussed the defensive line position within the division. Here’s an overview regarding defensive lineman in the AFC East.

Miami Dolphins

Projected Starters: Cameron Wake, Randy Starks, Jared Odrick, Olivier Vernon

Key Reserves: Earl Mitchell, Dion Jordan, Derrick Shelby

Overview: The calling card for the Miami Dolphins defense remains the defensive line. The strongest unit on the team got even deeper this past year in free agency. Cameron Wake remains the leader of the group, as the three-time Pro Bowl defensive end anchors one end of the D-line. On the other end is quite possibly the Dolphins’ breakout star of 2013 in University of Miami product Olivier Vernon, who recorded 11.5 sacks last season. Miami retained longtime defensive tackle Randy Starks, a  two-time Pro Bowl selection in his own right, and he’ll be part of a three man rotation in the interior of the defensive line involving Jared Odrick and free agent acquisition Earl Mitchell from the Houston Texans. Last year’s number one pick Dion Jordan’s suspension for the first four games of the season will hold off his impact until October. Filling in for Jordan in that role could be Derrick Shelby, a player sound enough against the run game but also has pass rushing ability.

New England Patriots

Projected Starters: Rob Ninkovich, Vince Wilfork, Tommy Kelly, Chandler Jones

Key Reserves: Chris Jones, Dominque Easley

Overview: The New England Patriots are full of talent on the defensive line, but injuries were a problem for this unit in 2013. Season ending injuries for Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly hurt this group, but both are expected to come back ready for the start of the season as the team’s starting defensive tackles. Wilfork is one of the NFL’s premier interior lineman, a five time Pro Bowl selection who is the definition of a space eater in the middle. Kelly had been a very durable starter for the Oakland Raiders, starting 80 straight games for the Silver and Black before missing 11 games last season for the Pats. New England has one of the best athletes in the NFL on one of the edges in Chandler Jones, a 6’5 265 pound defensive end with great speed who recorded 11.5 sacks last year. The other end is occupied by Rob Ninkovich, an end with a big motor who racked up 91 combined tackles and eight sacks. A potential impact player of the bench for New England could be Dominque Easley, their first round selection who is coming off an ACL injury . Chris Jones is also a contributor who had six off the bench last season, and is most notably known for being involved in the controversial penalty call on a field goal against the Jets last season.

New York Jets

Projected Starters: Muhammad Wilkerson, Damon Harrison, Sheldon Richardson

Key Reserves: Leger Douzable, Kenrick Ellis

Overview: Young stars litter the New York Jets defensive line, as the Gang’s Green team strength lies up front on the defensive end. Led by Pro Bowl nose tackle Muhammad Wilkerson and AFC defensive rookie of the year Sheldon Richardson, the Jets current unit channels the days of the old New York Sack Exchange. Wilkerson was an all-pro in 2013, and sacked quarterbacks 10.5 times as a 3-4 defensive end, while Richardson was a major disruptive presence in his first NFL season. Richardson and Wilkerson, along with nose tackle Damon Harrison helped lead the Jets to restricting the rest of the NFL to average 3.4 yards per carry against them, the best in the league versus the run. New York also only allowed 88.3 yards rushing per game, the 3rd least in the league. Leger Douzable is a veteran presence that can play both outside and inside in place of Wilkerson or Richardson, while Kenrick Ellis can take snaps away from Harrison with little drop off if needed.

Buffalo Bills

Projected Starters: Mario Williams, Marcell Dareus, Kyle Williams, Jerry Hughes

Key Reserves: Manny Lawson, Alan Branch

Overview: The AFC East may be the deepest division in terms of defensive lines in all of football, and the trend continues up north. The Buffalo Bills were second in the league in sacks last season with 57 thanks to a crew of sack masters led by former #1 overall pick and three-time Pro Bowler Mario Williams, who racked up 13 of them last season. Bookending him is Jerry Hughes,who had 10 sacks last year, and the defense gets stronger in the interior. Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams were both Pro Bowlers last year, but the Bills could be without Dareus due to a possible suspension looming under the NFL personal conduct policy due to his legal troubles. Filling that spot would likely be Alan Branch, a serviceable backup that played in all 16 games for Buffalo last season. The Bills are thin behind their two starting defensive ends, with the only true dependable veteran being speed rusher Manny Lawson.

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Please Note:
The opinions, analysis and/or speculation expressed by The Finsiders Blog represent those of individual writers, and unless quoted or clearly labeled as such, do not represent the opinions, policies or desires of the Miami Dolphins organization, front office, coaches and executives. Writers' views are formulated independently from any inside information and/or conversation with Dolphins officials, including the coaches and scouts, unless otherwise noted.

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