A name most people from South Florida had never heard of before the Miami Dolphins signed him to a four-year, $16 million dollar deal with $9 million of that being guaranteed is Earl Mitchell. He is the man signed to replace Paul Soliai and may go down as the best free agency move the Dolphins made this year.
Mitchell played nose tackle spot in Wade Phillips’ 3-4 defense while with the Houston Texans. This was not Mitchell’s natural position, though, as he is better when playing in between the gaps of the opposing team’s offensive linemen, like he will in Miami’s 4-3 defense, instead of lined up directly in front of the center and controlling both “A” gaps on either side of the center, which is what a nose tackle does in a 3-4 system.
The nose tackle spot, on the other hand, is Soliai’s natural position. Soliai, like Mitchell, was playing out of position in 2013, aside from the few times Miami would switch to a three-man front, in defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle’s defense. The Atlanta Falcons, the team that signed Soliai, do play a 3-4, though, which means Soliai and Mitchell both will be playing their natural positions in 2014.
The Dolphins replaced a 3-4 nose tackle playing 4-3 defensive tackle with a 4-3 defensive tackle playing 3-4 nose tackle.
Just know that both players should be much more productive for their new teams.
This bodes well for all parties involved. Soliai gets to play for his old defensive coordinator, Mike Nolan, in Atlanta and the Dolphins replace a productive out-of-position player with a guy who fits their scheme and is four years younger.
Mitchell is more than just the Dolphins’ new run-stuffing defensive tackle. Mitchell runs a 4.75 in the 40 yard dash. That’s faster than five of the running backs who ran at this year’s NFL Combine. Mitchell, who is much more athletic than his big body would insinuate, will provide much more interior pass rush than Soliai.
Mitchell was seen as a raw player who would need time to develop when he was coming into the league in 2010. Three years of playing in nearly every game developed Mitchell into a starter for the Texans, a role which he held down for 14 games last season.
Mitchell has finally seemed to mold himself into the player he could be and now that he is playing in his natural position, he should break out next season. In his Mitchell’s own words, he “definitely wanted to be a part of a 4-3” so he could “showcase his skills.”
This 2014 season and the Miami Dolphins are his opportunity to do so.