Barry Jackson

Dolphins bring three highly productive college linebackers to their headquarters

Brian Flores: ‘It’s about getting 11 guys on the same page’

Brian Flores, the newly announced head coach for the Miami Dolphins, talks to the media about how he plans to make his team work together during a press conference in Davie, Florida on Monday, February 4, 2019.
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Brian Flores, the newly announced head coach for the Miami Dolphins, talks to the media about how he plans to make his team work together during a press conference in Davie, Florida on Monday, February 4, 2019.

The Dolphins, searching for front seven defensive help, have brought at least three college linebackers to team headquarters in the past day for pre-draft visits, according to multiple league sources.

The players, all of whom filled the stat sheet last season:

Sione Takitaki, who had a team-high 118 tackles last season, including nine for loss, and three sacks. That tackle total included 19 tackles in BYU’s bowl game against Western Michigan.

Maryland’s Tre Watson, who had 108 tackles and a Big Ten-leading five interceptions last season.

Idaho’s Kaden Elliss, who had 278 tackles (including 47 for loss) and 17 sacks, five interceptions and six forced fumbles in 47 college games.

Takitaki and Eliss are visiting Dolphins offices Wednesday. Watson visited Tuesday. All will count toward the maximum 30 permitted draft-eligible players who are allowed to visit team headquarters, per NFL rules. The Dolphins do not announce their pre-draft visits, but all three were confirmed by league officials.

Some of the particulars:

Takitake, who’s 6-1 and 238 pounds, initially played 3-4 outside linebacker, then switched to defensive end in 2017, then moved back to linebacker in 2018. He finished his career with 241 tackles, 33.5 tackles for loss and 15.5 sacks.

NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein assessed him this way: “From wild and immature to a married man and team captain, Takitaki’s career at BYU has been filled with several downs and one, big upswing that started in 2017 after he sat out 2016 to “get his head right.”

“He covers up for a lack of speed and instincts with a hard-charging style that leads to feast or famine tape at times. He has deficiencies that muddy his fit at all three linebacker spots, but his playing style is tailor-made for special teams which could be his ticket into a backup linebacker spot at the back-end of a roster.”

Takitaki was briefly kicked off the BYU team after being involved in a dorm fight before his freshman year. But his teammates voted him back onto the team and he played 11 games as a freshman reserve.

He was suspended twice as a sophomore but married in 2016, spending that year away from football to get his academics and life in order.

He has been a model teammate and highly productive since then.

“I met my wife on that journey, and you know from a maturity standpoint, I got my head on right,” he told USA Today earlier this year. “I know I have a big opportunity and it was all in my hands, so I finally just screwed my head on right and attacked it.”

Asked what a team would be getting in him, he told USA Today: “First and foremost, you are going to get a guy who loves football. I’m doing this because I love this game. You are going to get a hard worker and also a guy who has never been hurt. There are a lot of players who are good but they have had like 5 surgeries. I haven’t had one surgery, I’m healthy as an ox, and I’m ready to play special teams or defense or wherever you need me. I’m ready to go.

“You are also getting a locker room guy. I’m cool with all walks of life and backgrounds. I’m comfortable with everyone and I let the coaches coach. I think those key things are really important for me and what you’d be getting with me.”

As for Elliss, he’s the son of former Detroit Lions star defensive linemen Luther Eliss and could play a hybrid role at linebacker at 6-3 and 239 pounds. His versatility is appealing to Miami.

Not only was he highly effective as a linebacker, but he caught 10 passes for 176 yards and two touchdowns as a backup tight end. He was a three-time all-conference selection and had at least four tackles for loss every season.

Eliss participated in both the Utah Pro Day (because he’s a native of Salt Lake City) and the Idaho pro day and excelled.

Watson, meanwhile, was fifth in the Big 10 with 108 tackles last season besides leading the conference in interceptions. He previously spent three seasons at Illinois.

Watson, who’s 6-2 and 236 pounds, wasn’t invited to the NFL Combine, which has fueled him.

“I always have something to prove,” Watson told Big Ten Network. “I always feel like there’s another level to achieve. Not getting a Senior Bowl invite, only playing in the Shrine Game, and not getting a combine invite, those stick with me. I’m a competitor at the end of the day and I feel like I’m the best linebacker there is going into the draft. It’s just more to add on to my plate.”

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