Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Ellerbe, Wheeler not sure things atop depth chart


The Miami Dolphins dished out big free agent contracts to Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler last offseason to upgrade their linebacker corps.

That's what they thought they were doing, anyway.

The duo turned out to be a disappointment on the whole in 2013, with linebacker play the primary culprit as Miami's once-mighty run defense slipped into mediocrity. According to head coach Joe Philbin, the Dolphins have not ruled out altering their lineup to get the best players on the field and improve the defense's performance.

Speaking with reporters at the NFL owner's meetings, Philbin said (via the Miami Herald) that "there was productivity there but we need to get more consistency out of the linebacker position, without a doubt."

He used the term "inconsistency" to describe his current linebacker group, and that "we haven't ruled out any combination or possibility of shuffling guys. We'll see."

Wheeler earned the lowest cumulative grade from Pro Football Focus of the 35 qualifying outside linebackers in 2013, and Ellerbe graded 50th lowest out of 55 inside linebackers. Both ranked in the bottom 10 of their position in total missed tackles.

Of the two, Ellerbe is the better player and likeliest to retain a significant role, though the front offense is non-committal to his future as the team's middle linebacker. The Dolphins offered a contract to free agent inside linebacker D'Qwell Jackson, who ultimately signed with the Indianapolis Colts.

Based on that, expect Miami to explore linebacker options in the draft and moving around expensive players, one of which possibly to the bench, to improve the defense.

"We always look at, and Joe a part of his core philosophy, same with me is putting players in the best position to be successful and help us win," Dolphins general manager Dennis Hickey said.

"We really like Dannell and that's part of the process as we go through," he continued. "Whether it's offense, defense or special teams, putting them in position to help us win."

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