Miami Dolphins

Dolphins' surprise starter at linebacker is from 2018 draft class. But he's no rookie

Linebacker Stephone Anthony, left, gave Dolphins coaches a taste of his potential in limited action a year ago.
Linebacker Stephone Anthony, left, gave Dolphins coaches a taste of his potential in limited action a year ago.

What if the Dolphins linebacker acquired with a 2018 draft pick who makes the biggest impact this fall is not Jerome Baker, but Stephone Anthony?

It's weird to think of Anthony as part of this year's Dolphins draft class because he has already played three NFL seasons — including eight games a year ago for Miami.

And when the Dolphins sent a fifth-round pick to New Orleans for Anthony last fall — a sign that the Saints were waving the white flag on a failed first-round pick — it was largely an afterthought.

Even after the trade, Anthony hardly saw the field, logging just 133 snaps on defense and 40 on special teams.

Yet remarkably, he likely will enter training camp with a starting job, his to lose.

Anthony took the vast majority of first-team snaps at outside linebacker during OTAs and minicamp, Dolphins defensive coordinator Matt Burke confirmed Wednesday.

Here's why:

"I think a lot of our other linebackers are younger guys right now," Burke said. "So Steph’s been here. He has a little bit of history in the scheme, so I think there’s just a little bit of comfort level with him in terms of knowledge. So we’re probably putting him out there with those guys a little bit more right now, but we flip-flop some spots a little bit. We’re going to try to get some guys some different work there, too. I think that is probably a little bit maybe more the dynamic of trying to let the younger linebackers kind of get up to speed a little bit before we totally throw them in the fire."

Yet there's more to the story. Yes, Anthony is playing ahead of rookies Baker, Quentin Poling and Mike McCray, and that's to be expected.

Miami Dolphins defensive coordinator Matt Burke comments on safety Minkah Fitzpatrick during press conference after practice at Dolphin training facility.

But he is also getting snaps over Chase Allen and Mike Hull, who started a combined seven games for Miami the past two seasons.

Anthony appears to have surpassed them both.

"He earned it by the same way all guys earn it," Burke said. "He’s been working hard. Again, it’s always difficult, I think, to come in the middle of the season, come from a different scheme and pick things up. Again, obviously, we had some injury issues last year and some other things at that position, which kind of sped that process up; but he works really hard. He works really, really hard."

And he gives the Dolphins a player who looks like a strong-side linebacker. Their focus this offseason has been on speed, but it has been at the expense of size. Draft picks Baker and Poling are both 235 pounds and under. Anthony is 6-3, 245.

"He can run and we like those body types," Burke said. "I think it’s good for him to have a full offseason. With us again, it’s tough coming in, transitioning from one system to another, so I think we’re trying to really overload him a bit and give him a full offseason, a full year of coaching with us, and see what he can do."

So far, so good.

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