Summary: The Dolphins linebacking corps in recent years has always emphasized speed more than size, but that's going to change under new head coach Nick Saban. The transition will be gradual, but you can expect to see the Dolphins go after bigger linebackers in the future. One example was the signing of former Denver starter Donnie Spragan, who stands 6-3, 242. A lot of the returning linebackers fit the previous mold, the biggest example being Zach Thomas. Thomas would seem to be too good not to have a significant role in the Dolphins defense, but who knows what the new defense (especially when the Dolphins are in a 3-4) will mean to other undersized linebackers such as Derrick Pope and Eddie Moore.
The battles: The Dolphins still are expected to use the 4-3 as their base defense, and it would seem a foregone conclusion that the three starters in that alignment will be Thomas, Spragan and 16-year veteran Junior Seau. When the Dolphins use a 3-4, don't be surprised to see defensive ends Jason Taylor and David Bowens be used as outside linebackers. The Dolphins figure to keep six linebackers on the 53-man roster and the only backup who seems assured of a roster spot is third-round pick Channing Crowder. The final two spots might come down to Moore, Pope, special teams ace Brendon Ayanbadejo, and don't count out 6-2, 252-pound rookie free agent Lionel Turner, who played for Saban at LSU.
Projected starters: Zach Thomas, Junior Seau, Donnie Spragan
Projected on the 53-man roster: Thomas, Seau, Spragan, Channing Crowder, Brendon Ayanbadejo, Derrick Pope