- Associated Press - Thursday, August 14, 2014

DAVIE, Fla. (AP) - The middle of the Miami Dolphins defense is getting a lot of attention in training camp.

While all three projected starters are the same as last year - Dannell Ellerbe, Koa Misi and Philip Wheeler - they are each lining up at different positions. Misi, who was the strong side linebacker, has moved into the middle where Ellerbe was before. Ellerbe has moved to the weak side. Wheeler is in Misi’s old spot.

There also is a new linebackers coach: Mark Duffner, who came over from the Jacksonville Jaguars. He has ramped up the energy level in the group and has been impressed so far with how Misi is handling the transition to middle linebacker.

“What I like about Koa first and foremost is his attitude,” Duffner said. “He’s a real professional. He’s going to work very, very hard both in the classroom, on the field and even on his own time to get better at understanding the position and the technique. . So far I’m pleased with what I see and the positive thing about him is this guy’s a football player. That means he plays with great passion and he can run and he’s going to be in the lineup.”

Misi recorded 54 tackles and two sacks last season as an outside linebacker and has 11 career sacks coming into his fifth season. The former second-round pick out of Utah found the end zone as a rookie in just his second game when he recovered a fumble for a touchdown at the Minnesota Vikings.

Now that he’s switching positions and learning under a different coach, Misi is being realistic with his expectations.

“It just takes reps and getting used to this defense,” he said. “Playing Mike is a whole different ball game and it’s taking me a little bit to get down, but I think I can do it.”

Behind the starting three, rookie fifth-round draft pick Jordan Tripp has caught on fast. He got some extra work with the first unit during Thursday’s practice at both inside and outside positions, and also in the nickel package.

Tripp opened some eyes at the team’s scrimmage two weeks ago at Sun Life Stadium when he forced a fumble and returned it 73 yards for a touchdown. He has been active all camp when he’s on the field and is earning the trust of his coaches and teammates, while also gaining more confidence in himself.

“My comfort level’s only getting better and better and I can’t thank the coaches enough for giving me those reps,” said Tripp, who played at the University of Montana. “Obviously, the group that we have is a very good group and a veteran group and the room is phenomenal. I didn’t expect it to be like this but everybody’s tight knit and I’ve gotten a lot of help from Dannell and Koa and it’s just a good aura.”

Duffner is already seeing the benefits of having such versatile linebackers at his disposal and sees that as being one of the strengths this season once they get their tackling issues settled. That was a problem in last week’s preseason opener at Atlanta and lately in practice, but correctable in his eyes.

“They’re all working together right now they just need to improve on their consistent play,” Duffner said. “These guys are athletic and I can see these guys making more plays than perhaps they may have. I just think these guys should be a consistent playmaking group and that’s what we’re going to demand out of them.”


AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP_NFL

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