POSITION ANALYSIS — LB

Before the start of the free agency signing period on Feb. 28, we will examine every position on the Dolphins, grade each player's performance in the 2002 season and evaluate the prospects for the 2003 season. We continue this series with the defensive line.

2002 RECAP

Zach Thomas — It was same old, same old for Thomas, who once again led the team in tackles and once again was selected to the Pro Bowl. The one drawback on Thomas' performance was the lack of big plays; he wound up with half a sack, one interception and one fumble recovery. Grade: A-

Derrick Rodgers — This was not a pleasant year for Rodgers, beginning with the now-infamous altercation with his wife and a man at a South Beach restaurant in July. On the field, Rodgers had to hear about complaints he wasn't getting the job done. That wasn't really true early in the season as Rodgers was playing well. But he did practically nothing in the second half of the season. Grade: C-

Morlon Greenwood — Because he was the one coming out in nickel situations, Greenwood didn't get nearly as much playing time as the other starters at linebacker. But that doesn't change the fact that Greenwood made very few plays. He looked a little more fluid in 2002 than he did as a rookie the season before, but he still wasn't a major factor at any time. Grade: C-

Tommy Hendricks — The backup for Thomas, Hendricks' value to the team as a special teams captain. Hendricks got practically no playing time on defense, although he did make the initial hit on a big fourth-down stop at the goal line against the Colts in the second week. Grade: B

Scott Galyon — The veteran got very little playing time as a backup on the outside and it's unfair to even grade his season on defense. Grade: Inc.

Twan Russell — A knee injury shut down Russell early in the season, before he had a chance to make any impact on special teams. Grade: Inc.

Justin Seaverns — Brought back after Russell was placed on IR, the undrafted rookie free agent never got on the field for a regular season game. Grade: Inc.

OUTLOOK FOR 2003

It's about time the Dolphins make some changes at linebacker, don't you think?

Zach Thomas has been a fixture at middle linebacker since he entered the league in 1996, and he's not going anywhere.

But the Dolphins really could use an upgrade on both sides of him. No offense to Rodgers and Greenwood, but those two guys simply don't make enough plays on a defense that still managed to be good despite that.

Rodgers will have to take a pay cut if he wants to remain on the team, but even if he's back, the Dolphins need a better starting weakside linebacker.

They also could use a better starting strongside linebacker, but it doesn't seem to be as big a need because Greenwood still could become a decent player and also because he's not on the field as much.

As for the backups, the only one the Dolphins really have to bring back is Hendricks because he's so good on special teams and because he also contributes on the goal-line defense.

Russell might be done after a series of injuries the last couple of years, while Galyon is an unrestricted free agent whom the Dolphins wouldn't care about losing.

So where do the Dolphins go to get help at outside linebacker?

The draft isn't considered particularly deep at OLB, and because they don't have a first-round pick the Dolphins aren't likely to land an impact player in the draft.

For the sake of being thorough, some of the better outside linebacker prospects include Georgia's Boss Bailey, TCU's LaMarcus McDonald, Oregon State's Nick Barnett, Michigan's Victor Hobson, Virginia's Angelo Crowell and Arizona's Lance Briggs.

But it's in free agency where the Dolphins really should look, and the top target just might be Seattle's Anthony Simmons.

There was some thought the Seahawks would put a franchise tag on the speedy Simmons, but they used it instead on offensive tackle Walter Jones. So Simmons will be free come Feb. 28, and the Dolphins would be smart to pursue him.

It has been suggested the Dolphins might go after Cincinnati's Takeo Spikes, but it's difficult to envision the Bengals letting him go. They put a transition tag on him, giving them the right to match any offer made to Spikes.

Spikes is a better player than Simmons, but the idea of getting him might be unrealistic.

Other unrestricted free agents the Dolphins might want to consider include Detroit's Chris Claiborne, Philadelphia's Shawn Barber, Chicago's Rosevelt Colvin and the Colts' Mike Peterson.

Any of those players would represent a clear upgrade over Rodgers. The bottom line is the Dolphins really need to enter the 2003 season with someone other than Rodgers and Greenwood as their starting outside linebackers.


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