In 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 Monday’s show, The Finsiders discussed the linebacker position within the division. Here’s a quick overview regarding linebackers in the AFC East.
Projected Starters: Dannell Ellerbe, Koa Misi, Philip Wheeler
Key Reserves: Jelani Jenkins, Jason Trusnik
Overview: This unit saw a major shakeup prior to last season as Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett, key members of the 2012 team, were replaced by former Baltimore Raven Dannell Ellerbe, and former Oakland Raider Philip Wheeler. Those two joined 2010 second round pick Koa Misi, whose solid play over the past four years earned him a new contract early last season. This year there will be another change within this unit. It appears Ellerbe will be moving back to outside linebacker, his more natural position that he played in Baltimore, while Misi will be switching over to the middle. The team is hoping the move will help improve upon their 21st ranked rush defense from a year ago. Behind those three you have second year linebacker, and former Florida Gator, Jelani Jenkins. Last season, Jenkins saw a majority of his playing time on special teams, where he finished 5th in total tackles. However, he was also used in a variety of substation packages on defense, and saw his playing time increase as the year wore on due to injuries to Ellerbe and Wheeler. Jason Trusnik will also see plenty of playing time this season, both on defense and on special teams, as he’s coming off his most productive year since 2010.
New England Patriots
Projected Starters: Dont’a Hightower, Jerod Mayo, Jamie Collins
Key Reserves: James Anderson, Steve Beauharnais
Overview: There’s been a long line of successful linebackers under Bill Belichick in New England with guys like Tedy Bruschi, Mike Vrable, Willie McGinest becoming fixtures in Foxborough, and while none of the linebackers currently on the roster are impact players like they were, there’s some good young talent in the Pats linebacking corps. The biggest name starter for New England is outside backer Jerod Mayo, who is a two-time Pro Bowl selection. Sitting in the middle in University of Alabama product Dont’a Hightower, a former first round pick that’s still looking to live up to his draft slot, but he did lead the team in combined tackles last year with 97. The intriguing prospect in regards to New England’s starters is Jamie Collins, who was dominant on special teams and had a monster game against the Indianapolis Colts in the postseason. The reserve likely to have the biggest impact is former Carolina Panthers and Chicago Bears linebackers James Anderson, a crafty veteran that Belichick likes to have in reserve in case his younger players struggle.
New York Jets
Projected Starters: Quinton Coples, Demario Davis, David Harris, Calvin Pace
Key Reserves: Jeremiah George, Jermaine Cunningham
Overview: The lone team to run a base 3-4 defense, the Jets run with four linebackers, three of which that are homegrown players, all drafted by the team. Two of them reside in the middle in inside linebackers David Harris and Demario Davis. Harris has been a fixture in New York for a while now, averaging over 100 tackles in each of his seven seasons with the Jets, while Davis broke out last year with 107 total tackles. The questions reside more on the outside, specifically in outside linebacker Quinton Coples. Now entering his third season, a pass rushing specialist in Coples will be expected to really turn it up after the former first round pick only garnered 10 sacks in his first two seasons, with 4.5 of them coming from his current position of outside linebacker. Opposite Coples is longtime veteran backer Calvin Pace, who actually recorded his highest sack total last season with 10 at the age of 33, but he can’t be counted on to repeat that kind of production entering his 12th season.
Projected Starters: Keith Rivers, Brandon Spikes, Nigel Bradham/Preston Brown
Key Reserves: Ty Powell
Overview: The Bills suffered a massive loss in the offseason with the season-ending injury to Kiko Alonso, putting a lot of pressure on Buffalo’s free agent addition in Brandon Spikes. Spikes was one of the league’s best linebackers against the run, but has yet to blossom as a linebacker that can consistently play in passing situations. Preston Brown, the team’s 3rd round draft pick is likely to get the first opportunity to replace Alonso, along with 3rd year veteran Nigel Bradham. Alongside Spikes will be another newcomer in the form of Keith Rivers, who spent the first four years of his career in Cincinnati before spending 2012 and 2013 with the New York Giants. Second year man Ty Powell saw limited playing time a year ago, but should see his role increased with Alonso’s injury, and could be used in various coverage packages.
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