Dolphins: Starks out but team deep on D-line
Dolphins defensive tackle Randy Starks didn’t make the trip to England and is out for today’s game at Wembley Stadium vs. the Raiders. Starks tweaked his back in practice on Tuesday, and with a bye next week, the Dolphins didn’t want to risk a key defensive piece in an eminently winnable game against Oakland.
The Miami defensive line rotation will understandably change a bit, but that shouldn’t limit its effectiveness against Oakland. The Raiders haven’t been able to run the ball in the first three weeks (Derek Carr has their two longest runs), and that shouldn’t change on Sunday, even with Starks sidelined. Earl Mitchell is looking like one of the steals of free agency, as he’s solidified the 1-technique, 4-3 NT role that Paul Soliai left when he bolted for Atlanta. Mitchell’s nine stops on 59 run snaps have him at the top of the pile in Run Stop Percentage among all defensive tackles.
Going deeper, Starks’ most immediate “backup” is Derrick Shelby. After the top five of Mitchell, Starks, Odrick, Wake, and Vernon, Shelby is a bit of an afterthought, but he’ll offer some versatility that Starks otherwise could not. Shelby offers Kevin Coyle another lineman, like Jared Odrick, who can line up at every position along the front. Shelby excels as a 6 or 7 technique run-stuffing end, finishing 2013 as a top-15 performer in Run Stop Percentage among 4-3 DEs. He can also move inside on passing downs as well, which kicks Mitchell to the bench and leaves the Dolphins with a very capable four-man rush of Vernon, Odrick, Shelby, and Wake.
Finally, one player who could see his NFL debut with Starks sitting out is seventh-rounder Terrence Fede. The Marist product flashed in the preseason, with a +4.5 grade on 57 snaps, including five QB pressures on just 31 pass rushing opportunities. Derek Carr has been under pressure on nearly 38% of his dropbacks this season, and has done well to avoid to the sack, taking just two on those 42 pressured dropbacks. Fede would be another body to throw at the alert rookie, if only to get Wake and Vernon a momentary breather.