by Mike E.
#53 WLB Jelani Jenkins 6’0” 243
Jelani Jenkins was drafted in the 4th RD (pick #104) of the 2013 NFL Draft. In 2013, Jenkins played ST’s and made 15 tackles. In 2014, due mostly to injuries to the Dolphins LB corps, Jenkins got a shot to play, and made the most of it. Jenkins played 15 games in ’14 starting 14 of them. He finished the season with 139 tackles (83 solo), 3.5 sacks, 1 pass defensed and 2 FF’s. It was a pretty successful season for the 2nd year player, and undoubtedly, the Dolphins are hoping for more from Jenkins.
Jenkins is penciled in as the starter on the weak side, and I don’t see any reason why that would change. He’s shown the ability to handle the position, and was a sure tackler in a unit that didn’t tackle well. He has good coverage skills, and the Dolphins will need him to step up and do more this season to get this team into the playoffs.
#55 MLB Koa Misi 6’3” 244
Koa Misi was drafted by the Miami Dolphins in the 2010 NFL draft out of Utah, in the 2nd RD, pick #40. Misi played mostly DE in Utah, but the Dolphins wanted to try Misi at LB. In 2010, the Dolphins were running the 3-4 defense, so Misi was obviously too small to play DE, and that was left for the big boys Kendall Langford and Randy Starks. Misi was a little heavier coming out of college, between 255-260. He’s shed some weight to get some quickness to better the play LB in a 4-3, where more speed is required. Back to ’10, Misi played SOLB in 16 games, starting 11. Misi tallied 41 tackles (29 solo), 4.5 sacks, 2 passes defensed, and 2 FR’s, (1 for a TD).
In 2014, the Misi at MLB experiment began. Due to injury to Dannell Ellerbe, Misi seemed like the best man for the spot. Misi played in 11 games and started all of them. He finished with 66 tackles (50 solo), 1 sack, 2 passes defensed, and 1 FR. Injuries hampered Misi all season long, as his entire career has gone. Fair or not, it’s tough to count on Misi for an entire season. Misi did however, bring solid tackling skills to the LB corps, and was one of the guys that when he hit the ballcarrier, they went down.
Health is the key for Misi. He has the size and the ability to play MLB, and he may actually get some competition from Kelvin Sheppard once the pads go on, and the hitting commences. We’ll get to Sheppard later.
#58 SLB Chris McCain 6’5” 250
Chris McCain was signed as an undrafted free agent in 2014. He played college ball for California. McCain was a special teams star last season, but also saw action in a few special packages at LB and DE as a pass rusher. This year, it seems the Dolphins intend for McCain to have a larger role as SOLB.
McCain will be competing with a veteran ST’s ace who we picked up from the New York Giants Spencer Paysinger. I’ll get to Paysinger later. McCain showed big play ability against the Patriots in Game 1 blocking a punt on ST’s. That’s what I call bursting on to the scene. The Dolphins feel McCain has the skills as as a pass rusher, and the ability to cover, so it should be a solid competition for the SLB spot.
#42 LB Spencer Paysinger 6’2” 236
Paysinger was signed as an undrafted free agent in 2011 by the New York Giants. Paysinger is a ST’s ace, who will now be in the competition at the SLB position with 2nd year player Chris McCain, also a ST’s player. In 2013, Paysinger got an opportunity to play LB due to many injuries, and played in 16 games, starting 10. He finished the ’13 season with 74 tackles (56 solo), 1 sack, 1 FR, and 1 pass defensed. Last season in NY, Paysinger was back as a special teams player. No offense to Spencer, but I’m hoping Chris McCain steps up and takes the job, and never looks back. I see a higher ceiling with McCain, due to his age, size and speed.
#52 MLB Kelvin Sheppard 6’2” 250
Kelvin Sheppard was drafted by the Buffalo Bills in the 3rd RD of the 2011 NFL Draft (pick #68). In his rookie year, Sheppard played in 16 games, starting 9 of them at MLB. He finished with 70 tackles (46 solo), 1 FR, 1 pass defensed, and 1 tackle for a safety. In 2012, Sheppard started 15 of the 16 games he played in, all at MLB. Sheppard finished the ’12 season with 80 tackles (56 solo), 2 sacks, 1 pass defensed. Sheppard was traded to the Colts for Jerry Hughes ( Seems like Buffalo did pretty well in that trade!) (In 2 years with BUF, Hughes has 20 sacks, 5 FF’s, 1 FR and 1 TD)
Back to Sheppard, who played the ’13 season in defenseless INDY. Sheppard played in 15 games at MLB for the Colts, starting only 7. He finished with 46 tackles (20 solo), 1 sack and 1 FR. Sheppard was signed by the Dolphins after being released by the Colts in 2014. He played sparingly in 14 games, starting 1. Sheppard totaled 24 tackles (17 solo), with 1 FF.
I think this former starter may have something to prove, and he may give incumbent starter Koa Misi a run for his money. Sheppard, much like Misi is a thumper. Sheppard isn’t particularly fast, and may be somewhat of a liability in pass coverage, but he can hit. It should be a pretty good competition for the MLB spot.
#57 Jordan Tripp 6’3” 245 ?
Jordan Tripp was drafted by the Miami Dolphins in the 5th RD of the 2014 NFL Draft (pick #171). Tripp appeared in 13 games last season, mostly on ST’s/ Tripp was drafted at 234 lbs, but it seems as if he put on some good weight for this season, but since I haven’t seen an official weight for him, I’ll go with 245 with a question mark. He could even be more than that. Tripp is a very athletic LB, with good speed (4.67 40), excellent acceleration (3.96 20 YD shuttle), and agility (6.89 cone drill)
Tripp has an outstanding non-stop motor and a very good work ethic. I’m not sure whether he’s ready to compete for a starting spot now, but he’s definitely worked hard in the offseason, and looks the part. Tripp was an instinctive player at Montana, we’ll see if he can make it happen in MIA.
#49 Zach Vigil LB 6’2” 240
The Dolphins signed Zach Vigil as an undrafted free agent in 2015. Vigil had an exceptional college career at Utah St. He piled up the tackles, higher each year culminating in a 156 tackle (79 solo) effort. In addition, Vigil had 9 sacks, 1 INT, (returned for a TD) 1 FF, and 4 passes defensed. He has the size, and athletic ability, but according to scouts, where Vigil is lacking is instincts. he’s a see and react type player rather than diagnosing and anticipating and reading what is happening. Perhaps he can learn some of that, we’ll see.
#45 Mike Hull LB 6’0” 237
The Dolphins signed Mike Hull as an undrafted free agent in 2015. Hull, like Vigil had a nice college career, especially when he got a chance to play at “Linebacker U” Penn State. In his Senior year, Hull totaled 140 tackles (75 solo) 2 sacks, 1 INT, 2 FF’s, and 5 passes defensed. Hull had a real nice showing at the NFL combine, running a 4.68 40, 31 reps of 225lbs on the bench, a 6.99 cone drill, and an 11.52 60 YD shuttle, a top performer in each of those categories at the LB position. What Hull couldn’t hide at the combine was his short arms (30.5”) That’s an issue in the NFL trying to shed blockers, when they likely are going to have a 3″- 5” reach advantage. It’s unfortunate, because Hull has great instincts and sees the field well, and is a very reliable tackler. He’s also a little short at 6”, but as Dolphins fans, those of us who enjoyed the great play of Zach Thomas for a decade can appreciate the fact that it doesn’t always matter.
#48 Jeff Luc LB 6’1″ 256
Luc played college ball his freshman and Sophomore years at Florida St. but then transfered to Cincinnati, where he played both his Junior and Senior years. Luc piled up 156 tackles last year for Cincinnati (65 solo), 6.5 sacks, 6 FF’s (YES, SIX!), and 4 passes defensed.
Luc is described as a power-lifter that plays LB He didn’t paricipate at the NFL combine, but at his pro day, he ran an average of 4.59, but didn’t really stand out in any other drill. Very thickly built, Luc is excellent at shedding blockers, but due to his stiff lower body, he isn’t the most agile player on the field. Luc can play, and with 6 forced fumbles, he can obviously lay the wood too. He was thrilled to be back in FLA playing for the Dolphins as a Miami native.
#46 Neville Hewitt LB 6’2″ 219
Hewitt played college ball at that school, uh, can’t think of the name . . . MARSHALL! That’s it The Thundering Herd of Marshall!
Hewitt played only 2 years at Marshall, and finished last season with 123 total tackles, (42 solo), 5 sacks, 1 INT, and 2 passes defensed. According to NFL Draft Scout, Hewitt runs a 4.69 40. Hewitt had surgery early in 2014 to repair a herniated disc and pinched nerve, but didn’t miss any playing time. NFL Draft Scout states Hewitt has good instincts, and is able to shed blocks well, despite not having ideal size. Some sites have Hewitt listed as 219, and others 231, so figure he’s somewhere in the middle. At 6’2″, that’s a little light, so he will need to add weight. Hewitt faces a tough battle to make to make the roster, but Hewitt is known for his perserverance, as his mother is currently in prison for drug trafficking.
In summation, I think the 2 biggest competitions will be at SLB between Chris McCain and Spencer Paysinger, and the MLB between Koa Misi and Kelvin Sheppard. For Paysinger and Sheppard, this could be their last big shot at a starting spot, so I expect them to do everything they can to make it happen. Misi is a survivor, so I don’t expect him to lay down either. McCain is young and inexperienced, but he has the size and ability to be a starter, but it will likely come up to how quickly he develops and learns his responsibilities. It could easily go either way.
As for Jordan Tripp, Zach Vigil, Mike Hull, Jeff Luc and Neville Hewitt, I think the latter 2 will have a hard time making the 53 man roster. They definitely face some tough odds. Tripp seems safe to make the roster, and despite the fact that he bulked up and looks the part, I think he may still have to be a special teams player and part time contributor to our defense. Luc, Hewitt, Vigil and Hull will likely have to make a strong impression on ST’s or in game action at LB to make the squad. In any case, I hope we go with best 3, regardless of draft position or salary. Again, my guess is Jenkins (almost a lock), McCain (strong showing in TC and preseason), and a surprise upset at MLB by Kelvin Sheppard, possibly helped by a nagging Misi injury