Stepping Up: How Julius Warmsley Could Carve Out a Role for Himself in Miami

There’s always one. Every year, a player seemingly destined to be cut by the end of the preseason finds a way to make the team. This year, the Dolphins’ preseason surprise has been defensive lineman Julius Warmsley.

Observers of early practices often find themselves surprised to see unfamiliar faces taking reps with some of the team’s bigger names. During my time at Dolphins training camp, Julius Warmsley’s presence with the starting unit surprised me. He often subbed in for Mario Williams, Cameron Wake, or Andre Branch.

While relatively unknown, Warmsley did arrive in Miami with some pedigree. After entering the NFL out of Tulane, he spent two years on the Seahawks’ and Texans’ practice squads. While practice squad players aren’t usually described as “having pedigree,” the Seahawks’ defensive line room produces a different level of player. Warmsley was able to learn with the best in the league and on a team with less depth and talent and could have had a chance to make the 53-man roaster.

This offseason, Warmsley arrived in Miami after the Dolphins lost Derrick Shelby and Olivier Vernon in free agency. The team clearly felt pressured to add depth, and Warmsley was part of that movement.

Sure, Warmsley looked good in practice, but nobody expected him to make a big impact during exhibition games. Based on the results in the first three games, they were wrong.

While Mario Williams has been somewhat disappointing, the bigger issue has been the play of Andre Branch and Jason Jones. Both veteran defensive ends lack the ability necessary to afford the Dolphins’ defense any opportunity at scheme versatility. They appear to be limited in their ability to contribute going forward and left the door wide open for Warmsley, who adds a unique dimension to the defensive line. 

Julius Warmsley is very large for a defensive end. While he is just 6’2”, he weighs in at 294 lbs. This means that Warmsley is not limited in his ability to stop the run.

Last season, the Dolphins relied heavily on Derrick Shelby, who now plays for the Falcons. Shelby’s run stopping talents allowed the Dolphins to switch him in as a defensive tackle, meaning that other players could shift on the line and create confusion for the opposing offense.

Shelby’s size? 6’2”, 280 lbs.

Warmsley and Shelby are the same height, and both have the weight to play the run inside without being pushed around by blockers.

The Dolphins obviously have Ndamukong Suh at defensive tackle, but have not seen inspiring performances from Earl Mitchell or Jordan Phillips to this point. While both are solid players (and Phillips has the potential to grow into a special player), neither has been a showstopper in Miami. That increases the importance of defensive ends who can also play against the run.

While listed as a defensive end, Warmsley has spent much of his time during the preseason playing inside.

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Here, Warmsley is able to take down Devonta Freeman after dragging the guard across the formation to meet him at the line of scrimmage.

Later in the game, Warmsley notched a sack from the interior of the line.

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He uses the swim move, coupled with his surprising quickness, to get to Matt Schaub.

Warmsley also notched a sack against the Giants playing as an interior lineman.

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While Warmsley has not yet made the team, these plays should be impressive enough to earn him a place in Miami. In addition to his play in the preseason, it is also easy to project his impact to the regular season if he were to be paired with Ndamukong Suh.

The idea of moving Suh out to defensive end on certain plays to create chaos for the offense will be attractive to Vance Joseph. Entering the preseason, we knew that Terrance Fede could be a player with the size and ability to play temporarily inside if asked to do so. However, they have been given another defender who can play that role in Julius Warmsley.

Here is an example from last season of what switching Suh can do on any given play.

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Here, Derrick Shelby and Ndamukong Suh swap places before the ball is snapped. Suh moves out to end while Shelby shifts inside to tackle. The offensive coordinator intended to have Suh blocked by the right tackle with a tight end handling Shelby, who is not a massive threat as a pure pass rusher. However, the shift means that the tight end actually has Ndamukong Suh, which is easy money for one of the league’s best defensive linemen.

In 2016, the Dolphins will not have Derrick Shelby to play the role of a hybrid, switchable defensive end. We know that they will have Terrance Fede, but it is possible that the team has also found another player who can contribute in that area.

It would be a huge surprise to me if Julius Warmsley were cut. After his performance this preseason, it is unlikely that he would be able to go unclaimed if Miami tried to stash him on the practice squad. Combine his performance with the subpar play of Jones and Branch with the recent trade that sent Chris McCain to New Orleans and you have the perfect situation for a player like Warmsley to secure a roster spot.

The Dolphins need someone like Julius Warmsley to fill the void left by Derrick Shelby (who filled the void originally left by Jared Odrick). Having defensive linemen who can play inside or outside is crucial for any defense that looks to create confusion for opposing offenses. Failing to utilize Ndamukong Suh in various places on the defensive line would be criminal, but the defense does need other players who can stop the run if they want to be able to exercise flexibility with Suh.

Julius Warmsley has showed that he at least belongs alongside Terrence Fede in the Dolphins’ defensive line rotation. Whether or not he contributes this season, he could be a strong asset for the team to keep in its back pocket moving forward.

Nothing is guaranteed at this time of year, but I feel fairly confident in the fact that Julius Warmsley will find himself as one of the 53 players that does not receive a phone call on the day of final cuts.

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