Starks Stepping Up

While most of Miami's opponents game-plan to block star linebackers Jason Taylor and Joey Porter, who have 10 Pro Bowls and 211.5 career sacks between them, unheralded defensive end Randy Starks has been more than a handful of late.

Starks, who is in his sixth NFL season despite being just 25, took over for well-respected defensive lineman Vonnie Holliday when the Dolphins chose not to re-sign Holliday after last season.

The Dolphins haven't regretted the decision to make Starks a full-time starter for the first time in his career — he was a backup in Tennessee for most his four seasons there. He has already notched 3.5 sacks, including at least one-half sack in the last four games to go with 26 tackles of which 19 are solo. He has also recovered a fumble.

The 6-3, 305-pound Starks made two game-saving plays in the final moments of Sunday's 30-25 victory over the Jets, first making an ankle tackle on quarterback Mark Sanchez, who seemed to have a clear path to the end zone for what would've been the winning touchdown. He followed that up with a 7-yard sack to force a desperation fourth-down pass that fell incomplete to seal the victory.

Until Sunday, the Dolphins' defense had failed to make key stops in fourth-quarter drives in losses to the Saints and Colts. They've given up 79 points in the final quarter already this season after giving up just 62 all of last year.

Dolphins coach Tony Sparano praised Starks for making the difficult transition from a 4-3 defense with the Titans to Miami's 3-4.

"It was really not easy for him ... going from the 4-3 to the 3-4 and getting into some of the two-gap stuff when he's an up-the-field guy," Sparano said. "He started out a little bit slow until he became familiar with, or more comfortable with what we were doing, particularly fundamentally.

"Of course taking him out of the phone booth and putting him into space a little bit more over the tackle is completely different. So his progress has been tremendous.

"We felt him last year, we felt him in the role that he was in. Played a little bit more nickel last year than anything else, and he was a good pass rusher there too. So we were a little bit afraid of losing the pass rush, and how much he played might affect losing the pass rush, and spent an awful lot of time this offseason talking to him about stamina."

On most passing plays, Starks fills in for veteran nose tackle Jason Ferguson, who is better suited as a run stuffer.

"They rush the passer, they get after the quarterback, they really rally the team," said Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who is 9-5 against the Dolphins and has been sacked eight times in seven games this season. "They have two great ends, they have a really good defensive line and a great defensive front seven that are all big, powerful guys that are able to stop the run.

"I've had some of my worst games of my career against the Dolphins. It's always a team that gives us problems, and we've got to go out there and try to play our best game this week."

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