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Dolphins experimenting with veteran Misi at middle linebacker

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The Canadian Press
6/2/2014 5:00:16 PM
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DAVIE, Fla. -- Miami Dolphins linebacker Koa Misi says he's looking forward to the team's annual fishing tournament this weekend, when he hopes to end a slump.

"It's a lot of fun," Misi said. "But I seem to get on a boat that doesn't catch too many fish. Hopefully this year that will change."

With the season three months away, the Dolphins are casting about for ways to improve their defence, which is why Misi found himself at middle linebacker during Monday's off-season practice.

He spent his first four NFL seasons mostly at strong-side linebacker, but the Miami coaching staff believes Misi might be better suited to clogging up the middle for a team that ranked 24th in rushing defence and 21st in yards allowed in 2013.

The switch is an experiment instigated when the Dolphins began off-season workouts. Misi swapped spots with Dannell Ellerbe, who moved from the middle to the outside in Miami's 4-3 scheme.

Philip Wheeler remains at weak-side linebacker, where second-year pro Jelani Jenkins could challenge him for playing time.

Linebacker was considered a weakness last year for the Dolphins, but they didn't address the area with a major acquisition in free agency or the draft, and now coach Joe Philbin is looking at the position switch as a possible remedy.

The 6-foot-3, 254-pound Misi was considered the best of the three starting linebackers last season. He won praise for his sound fundamentals, sure tackling and run-stopping skills.

"One of the things I've liked about him is when we do a year-end video cutup and show examples of how to take on a block, tackle properly and pursue to the ball, he shows up on a lot of those cuts," Philbin said.

"He plays the right way. And he has great leadership qualities. So we want to take a look at him in the interior. We'll see how he adjusts to that position and relates to the other players and the defence in general. So far he has done a nice job."

Defensive co-ordinator Kevin Coyle said the switch is a work in progress, but he likes the idea of Misi in the middle.

"He has such a physical presence," Coyle said. "When Koa hits you, you stay hit for a while. I can't tell you how many times we've used Koa as the example of, 'This is how you compete each and every snap on defence."'

Misi has been used at both outside linebacker spots and played a little defensive end early in his career, so he's accustomed to position changes.

"Since I got here I've been switching positions," he said. "I'm always open to try something new. If it works, it works. If not, well go back to the way things were."

Ellerbe said his attitude is the same. He played four seasons at outside linebacker for the Baltimore Ravens before replacing an injured Ray Lewis in the middle during their Super Bowl championship season in 2012.

He moved back to the middle when he joined the Dolphins last year.

"Whatever will help the team, I'm down for," Ellerbe said. "It doesn't matter where we play."

In the middle, Misi said, he must adjust to the heavier traffic and change the way he reads keys. In addition, playing in the middle -- the mike position -- requires that the laid-back Misi assume more of a leadership role.

"Mike is the leader of the defence," he said. "It forces you to be more vocal. You've got to make all the calls, and you have to know pretty much the whole defence to get in the right spot to make a play."

The experiment will likely continue the rest of this week at least, with two more practices scheduled.

"I can't commit today to say that it's a done deal," Coyle said, "but certainly I like what we're seeing."

Koa Misi (Photo: Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
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