With Randy Starks absent from practice the past two weeks mourning the death of his mother, Tony McDaniel has gotten plenty of exercise with the first team at defensive tackle.
But here’s a scenario to consider with the offseason just days away: What if neither Starks nor McDaniel is with the Dolphins in 2013? (It’s not that far-fetched; each one is in the final year of his contract.)
Perhaps the team would find a replacement from the outside. Or maybe the Dolphins would use a proven starter who has taken scores of snaps at the position this season.
Jared Odrick is officially listed as a defensive end, and that’s his most natural position. But Odrick has made many of his biggest plays this year while lined up opposite an interior lineman.
“He can be a force inside,” Dolphins defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle said. “He’s a big man, but he’s athletic and I think sometimes it creates a mismatch athletically with guards and centers. We’ve got to continue to keep getting him more and more reps inside and get him isolated as best we can.”
Are the Dolphins grooming Odrick to make yet another position change after being a 3-4 defensive end under the previous regime? Probably not yet. Coyle said Odrick might work as an every-down tackle but added, “I’m not sold that that’s his best position right now.”
But necessity often turns the imperfect into the serviceable. And Odrick has been more than that this season, particularly when lined up in the middle.
Odrick, who can plan every position on the defensive line, has career highs in tackles (34) and stuffs (six). His five sacks are one shy of his personal best, which he set a season ago. Odrick has been on the field for more than 80 percent of his team’s defensive snaps.
And his best work has been at defensive tackle, where he is usually placed in passing situations. Pro Football Focus ranks Odrick 63rd of the 64 4-3 defensive ends who have taken at least 25 percent of their team’s snaps this season, giving Odrick well-below-average marks in pass rush.
“I make a lot of plays from inside, as opposed to an outside pass-rusher, which everybody talks about wanting next year,” Odrick said. “I’m put in there for a reason, inside, to generate some type of pass rush, or make plays, regardless of the position I’m in.”
When asked if he could be an every-down defensive tackle, Odrick answered unequivocally: Yes.
He certainly has the size (6-5, 302) to do so. Odrick’s desire and motor never have been in question. And Dolphins coach Joe Philbin has praised the third-year player’s athleticism and accountability, as well.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick said Odrick has made the biggest strides in technique and anticipation of the game. The Dolphins could use a sustained pass rush from their defensive line this weekend, when they’re in New England to face Tom Brady.
That being said, the organization seems to like his current role — as a hybrid player who can adapt to the game situation.
“If that came along, I would do it,” Odrick said of moving solely to defensive tackle. “It’s not something that I’m vying for, it’s not something I’m asking to do. I’m just here to make plays. When everything’s all said and done after this year, we’ll see what happens.”
Nolan Carroll (knee), Josh Samuda (shoulder) and Randy Starks (nonfootball, personal) were listed in Friday’s injury report as questionable to play. Seven Dolphins were probable: Armon Binns, Chris Clemons, Karlos Dansby, Brian Hartline, Reshad Jones, Koa Misi and Sean Smith.