Dolphins defensive line causing problems for offense in training camp

Miami Dolphins defensive tackle Raekwon Davis (98) runs drills at practice at Baptist Health Training Complex in Miami Gardens on Friday, July 29, 2022.

Miami Dolphins defensive tackle Raekwon Davis (98) runs drills at practice at Baptist Health Training Complex in Miami Gardens on Friday, July 29, 2022.

adiaz@miamiherald.com

It was as if Terron Armstead had the Dolphins’ roster printed in front of him.

Asked about his impressions of a defensive front he’s become well-acquainted with over the first two weeks of training camp, the Dolphins left tackle rattled off names as if it were roll call.

“Real active group. Highly talented, a lot of skill,” Armstead said after Friday’s practice.

Armstead had good reason to make sure no player in the position group was left out. During Friday’s session, the defensive front often stymied the opposing offensive line, corralling runs, registering likely sacks and forcing errant passes in 11-on-11 team drills.

At times a footnote because of the team’s speedy receiving tandem and airtight secondary, the Dolphins’ defensive front has made its presence felt in training camp, especially in the past few days with pads on and a bit more contact permitted.

The Dolphins sought continuity in their defense during the offseason and their defensive front was no exception. The team signed defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah to a four-year extension right as free agency was set to open and re-signed veteran backup John Jenkins to a one-year deal. Along with the return of players such as Christian Wilkins and Raekwon Davis, the Dolphins signed Melvin Ingram III, whose addition Armstead called “extremely underrated.

“He’s an amazing player, he’s been that way for a long time,” Armstead said of the three-time Pro Bowler.

Even without Adam Butler, a key 2021 backup who was sidelined for the first two weeks of training camp and released Tuesday because of a failed physical, the defensive front’s depth has been evident. There have been the usual suspects, such as Wilkins and Davis stonewalling ball carriers near the line of scrimmage. Jaelan Phillips and Andrew Van Ginkel have collapsed the pocket and disrupted drop-backs. Even players fighting for roster spots, such as Porter Gustin and undrafted rookie Ben Stille, have flashed during intrasquad action.

“We are very, very confident in a lot of the young players that we’re developing and I’m very confident in that room in general,” head coach Mike McDaniel said.

Clashing each day with the speed of the Dolphins’ new-look offense and an intricate run scheme has been welcomed by the group, especially after it struggled against the run to begin the 2021 season before turning things around.

“We’re seeing looks that normally you don’t see this early in training camp,” Van Ginkel said. “It really tests our edges and tests our gap defense, so as long as everyone is doing their job and working hard to improve, that’s how we have to approach each day.”

With Josh Boyer returning as coordinator, not much is expected to change within the philosophy of the Dolphins defense in 2022. They still project as an aggressive unit that blitzes frequently and relies heavily on its high-priced cornerback tandem of Xavien Howard and Byron Jones, who remains on the physically-unable-to-perform list.

However, a just-as-bothersome four-man rush could be a curveball in the defense’s arsenal. During the Dolphins’ seven-game winning streak after a 1-7 start in 2021, their defense had a league-leading sack rate of 11 percent on non-blitzes, according to ESPN’s Next Gen Stats.

If the defense happens to shift more towards that tendency, a number of players could deliver. It could be someone like Phillips, who after an 8.5-sack rookie season is a breakout candidate. It could be Wilkins, who Armstead predicted would have a “standout year, more so in the statline than ever before.” It could be Sieler, who was one of the most productive linemen even in a backup role last season.

Or it could be the many other names Armstead wouldn’t dare leave out.

“I’m a fan of those guys,” Armstead said.

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Daniel Oyefusi covers the Dolphins for the Miami Herald. A native of Towson, Maryland, he graduated from the University of Maryland: College Park. Previously, he covered the Ravens for The Baltimore Sun.

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