The Miami Dolphins made several moves this offseason to acquire key free agents that will give them a fighting chance at knocking off the New England Patriots' top spot in the AFC East. After getting several offensive weapons like Dustin Keller and Mike Wallace, it is two linebackers that starting to make noise as training camp opens.
Philip Wheeler and Dannell Ellerbe made their presence known at the Dolphins' first practice in full pads. Both were all over the field, disrupting plays and putting pressure on everyone. Even poor undrafted rookie Cameron Marshall felt the wrath of the two linebackers after getting a crash course in NFL-style blitzing.
"That's something I like to do," Ellerbe said. "You've got to understand the cadence. Just know how their scheme and block protection is. You just have to go out there and do it, time it up. I feel like the sky's the limit."
That could be true for the Miami Dolphins. On paper, the Dolphins look poised for a breakout season. With Ryan Tannehill manning the offense in his second year, along with Wheeler and Ellerbe controlling the defensive schemes, Miami could see a lot of success come there way.
Defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle is loving the team's new additions, showing just how far has is willing to open up the playbook. Ellerbe blitzed five or six times in the team's first practice, racking up four sacks. He also intercepted Ryan Tannehill during drills.
The Dolphins' defense has made it a goal to finish first in the league in sacks and top five overall when the season is over. In 2012, Miami ranked seventh in sacks with 42 total. Ellerbe was the most effective pass rusher amongst inside linebackers last season. Wheeler was second amongst outside linebackers last season.
So far, head coach Joe Philbin is impressed with what he is seeing from his defense. He knows that the season is still a ways away and while the team might look good from a paper standpoint, they must prove it on the field.
"I think we have a better team on paper than we did last July 21st," Philbin said. "I expect us to improve. We told the team this is a developmental program. We expect to get better year to year, week to week, and I expect us to be better. We should play better."
Both Ellerbe and Wheeler are working to learn the team's new defensive schemes in hopes of getting things to click early. With the Patriots on the mend, the door could be open for the Dolphins.