As the Miami Dolphins prepare for the start of training camp, we break down every position with a look back at what happened in the offseason, what to watch in the summer and what might happen in the regular season.
We continue the series with the linebackers.
ON THE ROSTER
• Jerome Baker — Fourth year out of Ohio State; entered the NFL in 2018 as a third-round pick of the Dolphins
• Vince Biegel — Fifth year out of Wisconsin; entered the NFL in 2017 as a fourth-round pick of the Green Bay Packers
• Sam Eguavoen — Third year out of Texas Tech; entered the NFL in 2019 as an undrafted free agent
• Shaquem Griffin — Fourth year out of Central Florida; entered the NFL in 2018 as a fifth-round pick of the Seattle Seahawks
• Kylan Johnson — First-year player out of Pittsburgh; entered the NFL in 2020 as an undrafted free agent
• Benardrick McKinney — Seventh year out of Mississippi State; entered the NFL in 2015 as a second-round pick of the Houston Texans
• Calvin Munson — Third year out of San Diego State; entered the NFL in 2017 as an undrafted free agent
• Jaelan Phillips — Rookie out of the University of Miami; first-round pick (18th overall) of the Miami Dolphins in 2021
• Duke Riley — Fifth year out of LSU; entered the NFL in 2017 as a third-round pick of the Atlanta Falcons
• Elandon Roberts — Sixth year out of Houston; entered the NFL in 2016 as a sixth-round pick of the New England Patriots
• Brennan Scarlett — Sixth year out Stanford; entered the NFL in 2016 as an undrafted free agent
• Andrew Van Ginkel — Third year out of Wisconsin; entered the NFL in 2019 as a fifth-round pick of the Dolphins
Jan. 5— Johnson signed to a futures contract
March 10 — Released Kyle Van Noy
March 15 — Roberts and Kamu Grugier-Hill became unrestricted free agents
March 16 — Re-signed Biegel
March 17 — Acquired McKinney from the Houston Texans in a trade for edge defender Shaq Lawson
March 22 — Signed Riley and Scarlett as unrestricted free agents from the Philadelphia Eagles and Houston Texans, respectively
March 24 — Re-signed Jenkins as an unrestricted free agent
April 14 — Re-signed Munson as an exclusive-rights free agent
April 29 — Selected Phillips in the first round (18th overall) of the 2021 NFL draft
June 13 — Signed Baker to a three-year contract extension
July 23 — Signed Griffin as a free agent
Baker: 11 starts, 112 tackles, 7 sacks, 7 tackles for loss, 2 forced fumbles
Van Noy: 13 starts, 69 tackles, 6 sacks, 10 tackles for loss, 1 fumble recovery
Roberts: 11 starts, 61 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 8 tackles for loss, 1 fumble recovery, 1 forced fumble
Van Ginkel: 11 starts, 48 tackles, 5.5 sacks, 7 tackles for loss, 1 fumble recovery (TD), 3 forced fumbles
Lawson: 7 starts, 32 tackles, 4 sacks, 4 tackles for loss, 1 fumble recovery (TD), 1 forced fumble
The Dolphins got solid play at linebacker last season, and no one was better than Baker, who was one of only two players in the entire league with at least 100 tackles and seven sacks. Van Noy gave the Dolphins pretty much what he previously had given the Patriots, though his sack total is skewed by a three-sack performance against the Joe Burrow-less Cincinnati Bengals and what had to be the worst (or close to it) offensive line in the NFL at the stage of the season. Van Ginkel really made the most of his playing time and Roberts was very good as a run stopper, though Lawson's one season in Miami was less than overwhelming.
There were some pretty big changes at linebacker in the offseason, some pretty surprising ones at that. While the release of Van Noy makes sense upon inspection, it did come as a major surprise the Dolphins would let him go one year into a four-year deal. The Dolphins then made what looks from this vantage point as a great deal when they got McKinney from Houston in exchange for Lawson. And we obviously can't forget the selection of Jaelan Phillips in the first round of the draft because he brings the kind of athleticism that could really round out this linebacker corps.
THE TOP SUMMER STORYLINES
Because Phillips is so athletically gifted, he's got the ability to do a lot of things on defense and figuring out the best way to utilize him is going to be one of the priorities in training camp. Another summer subplot is the health status of Roberts, who took in OTAs open to the media after his seemingly severe knee injury at Las Vegas last December but then watched from the sideline during the minicamp. And in that vein we also should keep an eye on Vince Biegel, who's approaching the one-year anniversary of his season-ruining Achilles injury.
LONG SHOT TO WATCH
The Dolphins don't have a lot of "long shots" at linebacker because the group features mostly returning players or veterans who came over from another team. So, even though he might not even fit into the category of long shot, we'll go with Shaquem Griffin because he signed just days before the start of training camp and is no lock to make the 53-man roster.
THE KEY SUMMER BATTLE
Like a lot of other spots, the key battles in training camp figure to come on the back end of the positional depth chart. At this time, the linebackers who look like locks to be on the 53-man squad are Baker, Phillips, McKinney, Van Ginkel, Riley and Scarlett, with Roberts a pretty good bet. That won't leave many spots open and there should be quite a battle for whatever other spots the Dolphins allocate to the linebacker position.
BETTER OR WORSE THAN THIS TIME LAST YEAR
The key comings and goings over the past year include McKinney and Phillips arriving and Van Noy and Lawson leaving. That looks like a win for the Dolphins, and that's not counting the arrivals of special teams standouts Riley and Scarlett. So, yes, definitely better.
PROJECTED OPENING-DAY STARTERS
Regardless of the designation the Dolphins wish to use, logic says that Baker, McKinney and Phillips all will be in the starting lineup, whether you want to say they're playing a 4-3 with Emmanuel Ogbah listed as a defensive end or a 3-4 with Ogbah listed as an edge defender. The one other player who could end up starting at linebacker/edge is Van Ginkel, but one would think that Phillips will be given every chance to earn a starting job right off the bat.
Alain Poupart has covered the Miami Dolphins on a full-time basis since 1989. You can follow him on Twitter at @PoupartNFL. Feel free to submit questions every Friday for the All Dolphins mailbag.