CAMP COUNTDOWN: LINEBACKERS

As the Dolphins prepare for the start of training camp, we take a close position-by-position look at the roster, including a prediction of who will start and make the 53-man squad. Today we look at the linebackers.

There are few spots on the Dolphins roster where there will be more competition in training camp than at linebacker.

The competition, however, is pretty much limited to backup roles behind projected starters Zach Thomas, Junior Seau and Morlon Greenwood.

The Dolphins roster includes a lot of young linebackers with good special teams ability, and that will make the final roster cuts difficult at this position.

Thomas obviously is the key guy in the group, but he will miss the start of training camp and the start of the preseason after undergoing knee surgery about 10 days ago.

Seau is coming off a solid, if not spectacular, first season with the Dolphins, while Greenwood is coming off by far his best season in the NFL.

It will be interesting to see if Greenwood can build on that this season, and whether his role might increase if he does continue to progress.

Among the backups, the key names are Eddie Moore, Corey Jenkins, Brendan Ayanbadejo, Derrick Pope and Tony Bua.

Moore, of course, was the Dolphins' top pick in 2003 and he's back after missing all of last season because of a foot injury. Because of his draft status, he's a lock to make the team but it would greatly help if he could produce. He does have great speed; the question is how quickly he can learn the ins and outs of playing in the NFL.

Jenkins also appears a solid bet to make the team after he had a solid rookie season. Look for him to get increased playing time in 2004, and he could take over as the No. 1 backup at linebacker with Tommy Hendricks gone to Jacksonville in free agency.

Ayanbadejo led the Dolphins in special teams tackles last season, so he's got some value.

As for Pope and Bua, they are both head hunters on special teams, and that's where they'll have to make the team.

The other three linebackers on the roster — Kevin Mitchell, Winston Taylor and Brenden Givan — better do something drastic in camp to have a chance at making the team.

As it is, this is a crowded group.

Given the Dolphins' scheme, it's difficult for the linebackers to make many big plays, but Thomas certainly makes his share of plays.

We've already told you who the starters are going to be; we see the Dolphins keeping as backups Jenkins, Moore and — just a hunch here — Bua, in the hopes he can become another Larry Izzo.

Next time we'll look at the offensive line.


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