If Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett played as good a game as they talked the Miami Dolphins would have one of the best linebacker duos in the NFL.
Miami's two loquacious veterans have the ability, and the track record to be impact players - producing sacks, forcing fumbles, pulling down interceptions - but their production as Dolphins hasn't always aligned with their talent level.
The pair, which contributed 209 tackles last season, got off to rough start last season before finishing out 2011 strong. It is possible Dansby and Burnett could pick up where they left off in their second year working together.
The defense's shift to a base 4-3 scheme could also help this duo flourish because defensive tackles Paul Soliai and Randy Starks should allow Miami's linebackers room to roam.
LINEBACKERS: Starters – WLB Kevin Burnett, ILB Karlos Dansby, SLB Koa Misi. Backups – OLB Josh Kaddu, OLB Jamaal Westerman, OLB Gary Guyton, OLB Jason Trusnik, ILB Austin Spitler, ILB Shelly Lyons, OLB Jonathan Freeny, OLB Cameron Collins
BY THE NUMBER: Dansby, whom the Dolphins signed to a five-year, $43 million contract in 2010, has contributed five sacks, forced three fumbles and pulled down one interception during his two-year tenure in Miami.
ON THE HOT SEAT: The Dolphins used a 2010 second-round pick on Misi hoping he'd eventually develop into a pass rusher in the 3-4 scheme, but that didn't happen. The 4-3 fits his skillset a little better, but Misi must show the new coaching staff he can set an edge, and cover tight ends to hold off Guyton and Kaddu, who might push him for the starting spot.
THE KEEPERS: Because linebackers are vital to the special teams unit the Dolphins will keep at least six on the 53 man roster, and might carry another two on the practice squad. Burnett, Dansby and Misi are locks, and Westerman's ability to serve as a linebacker and a defensive end should keep him safe if he produces. Kaddu, the team's fifth-round pick, will have to prove he belongs on the 53 with steady practices and solid games.
BREAKDOWN: Dansby and Burnett are the team’s top returning tacklers. Their versatility allows them to have interchangeable roles, and their experience and wisdom should help the young linebackers develop. Both have the instincts and skillset to handle the challenge if they remain healthy. Burnett, who contributed 106 tackles, 2.5 sacks and one interception last season, has the potential to do more if lingering knee problems don't become an issue.
Misi hasn’t lived up to his draft standing so far, but his non-stop motor should help him excel in the 4-3 scheme. He'll need to produce to prevent Kaddu, a rookie, or Guyton, a starter in New England the Dolphins added as a free agent, from leapfrogging him on the depth chart.
Spitler and Trusnik, two core special teams contributors, need to flash some upside to extend their South Florida stay. Everyone else is realistically battling for practice squad spots unless they consistently flash during camp, or the exhibition season.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times