Miami Dolphins' decision makers have made it clear they view defensive tackle as one of the team's top remaining needs.
Head coach Adam Gase said at the NFL owners meetings that the Dolphins, who hosted Dontari Poe on a free-agent visit earlier this month before he signed with Atlanta, might need to sign a veteran to fortify Miami's defensive front. Miami's defense allowed 140 rushing yards per game last season, which ranked the Dolphins 30th in the league against the run.
"If the right opportunity comes we'll always look to add a veteran," Gase said. "We'll see how it goes with the draft, and even after that. Sometimes guys [come free] and are willing to take less money, or someone gets cut because of the draft.
"Any chance we get to add a guy we like at that [position] we're going to do it."
The Dolphins are looking for a player who can take on two blockers and clear the way for the linebackers to make plays. Miami's insistence on using the wide-9 scheme, which emphasizes pass rushing and makes run stopping secondary, could complicate matters.
The Dolphins may need a quality starter to pair with Ndamukong Suh, a five-time Pro Bowler, because Jordan Phillips has struggled to play a high level consistently when playing more than 30 snaps a game in his first two seasons in the NFL.
And Miami has very little depth behind Suh and Phillips. This offseason the Dolphins cut Earl Mitchell, who ended up signing with San Francisco, and the only other move made at defensive tackle was re-signing journeyman Nick Williams, who played sparingly last season.
"We have to do things to make sure Suh isn't doubled the entire game," Gase said, referring to Suh taking on two blockers. "Whoever is playing opposite him, he has to make plays. We are going to put a lot of pressure on Jordan this year. We feel like the talent is there. We feel he's doing things the right way. We felt at the end of the year he was doing things the right way."
Williams, Arthur Miley, Lawrence Okoye, who is on his sixth NFL team since 2013, and Julius Warmsley, who spent last season either on Miami's 53-man roster or the practice squad, are the other defensive tackle options on the roster.
Phillips, Miami's 2015 second-round pick, started 11 games last season, contributing 23 tackles, one interception and half a sack. In his rookie season, Phillips had 19 tackles and two sacks.
The Dolphins want Phillips to work on his conditioning to ensure he can play more snaps at a higher level.
Gase said Phillips' play began to improve late last season when he stopped worrying about stats, and realized his performance impacted everyone around him.
"Jordan is starting to realize it's not only about me trying to make a play. 'I have to understand the [roles of the] guy next to me, the guy behind me.' That's what defensive tackles do," Gase said. "They allow other guys to make [a] play. That's why they're almost the forgotten soldiers on the field."
Jonathan Hankins, a starter with the New York Giants for the past three years, remains unsigned, but he's seeking a lucrative multi-year contract. Sen'Derrick Marks, who was released by Jacksonville, Arthur Jones, who was cut by Indianapolis, Paul Soliai, who was released by Carolina, and Sean Lissemore, who played for the Los Angeles Chargers last season, are some of the better veteran free agent defensive tackles available.
Defensive tackle is one the thinnest positions in next month's draft, so if the Dolphins plan to find a player who can come in and help immediately they might be forced to use an early pick on a top-shelf talent like Michigan State's Malik McDowell, Florida's Caleb Brantley, Clemson's Carlos Watkins, Michigan's Chris Wormley, Oklahoma's Vincent Taylor or Alabama's Dalvin Tomlinson, who could all come off the board in the first three rounds.
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