Second year defensive coordinator Mike Nolan gives Miami fans reason to smile. With a year under their belt the chemistry between players and coach should be even stronger. Plus the players have had a year to learn Nolan's scheme and should be more productive executing it.
The Dolphins finished the 2010 NFL season ranked 6th in overall yards allowed and tenth in sacks. Not too shabby, especially considering how young this defense is. Twelve players who figure to play a prominent role in 2011 are in the early part or prime of their career. Basically Nolan has young talent at his disposal.
The solid anchor of the defense is the line. Coach Sparano echoed that sentiment stating, "That group was the only one on my football team I knew what I was getting every game."
The return of 2010 first round pick Jared Odrick, who sat out last season due to injury, adds depth to an already strong defensive line. Randy Starks earned a Pro Bowl nod in 2010 and some believe nose tackle (and franchise tag player) Paul Soliai should have been in Hawaii as well. Add the ever improving Kendall Langford to the mix and it is obvious the defensive line is among the teams greatest strengths.
It is hard to talk about team strengths without mentioning the linebacking corp. These guys were impressive last season and should build on that this year.
The front office made a smart move bringing Karlos Dansby into the fold. Not only is he a great player, but his leadership skills are important for this young defense. Look for Dansby to make more noise this season.
In just his second year in the NFL, Cameron Wake emerged as one of the leagues premier linebackers. The Pro Bowler ranked 3rd in sacks recording 14.
Rounding out the linebacking corp are Koa Misi and team defensive leader Channing Crowder.
Wreaking havoc in the secondary are play maker Vontae Davis and Sean Smith. With teams shying away from Davis' side look for them to take shots at Smith. After dropping several potential interceptions last year Smith must have better hands this season. If he does many believe he will have a breakout year.
And don't forget about Pro Bowl safety Yeremiah Bell. He has great instincts and is a solid tackler.
The defense will benefit from a stronger offense. If Miami can put points on the board it should free up the defense to play more aggressively. Playing from behind makes it hard on a defense to really play loose.
Creating turnovers will be defensive focus. Last year the defense struggled in this area, this year they want to turn up the pressure. If they can capitalize on turnovers in 2011, Miami may just compete in the loaded AFC East.
For now most fans and media are focused on the offense. Who will be the quarterback? What will Miami's backfield look like? But it very well may be the defense that gives the team a chance to contend this season.