Man in the Middle: How Will Lawrence Timmons Elevate the Dolphins’ Defense?

On Friday, the Miami Dolphins made the wise decision to address their talent-starved linebacker corps by signing 10-year Steelers standout Lawrence Timmons to a two-year, $12 million contract. While the 30-year-old linebacker is not the freak athlete he used to be, he still represents a major upgrade over every linebacker not named Kiko Alonso. While Timmons’ exact role is to be determined, he is reportedly going to be taking snaps at middle linebacker, specifically on early downs. This will allow Kiko Alonso to kick it out to the outside, where his talents in coverage can be accentuated.  So, Greg, what do you say we get on to the scouting report of the Dolphins’ newest linebacker?

Background:

Lawrence Timmons spent each of his first 10 seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers as their field general and thumper over the middle of the field. Age may have sapped some of his ability to move around in space, but he’s still very reliable against the run and in blitz packages. He has totaled over 100 tackles in 5 straight campaigns, including last season’s 114-tackle season in which he also tallied 2.5 sacks, 2 interceptions, and a forced fumble.

Concerns regarding his age, decline in coverage ability, and $11 million in guarantees are not without grounds. However, any questions regarding his ability to be productive can be dispelled quickly by taking a gander at the game film of his 14-tackle, 2-sack playoff performance against the Miami Dolphins in the Wild Card round just a couple of months ago. Take my word for it, the guy knows how to play football.

Strengths:

Lawrence Timmons is the epitome of a Steelers’ linebacker. He’s reliable, durable, hard-nosed, and not flashy. You’re not going to see a lot of highlight reel plays out of Timmons, but you’re definitely not going to see many blunders either. Lawrence Timmons is an old-fashioned, bullying linebacker at the point of attack. He is one of the best in the NFL at plugging running lanes, specifically on interior runs. His block shedding ability is well above average for an interior linebacker, as can be seen here:

Timmons bounces off block, gets to lane

Once Timmons diagnoses where the ballcarrier is going to go, there are three overwhelmingly likely possibilities. A) The running back doesn’t know where to go and gets tackled near the line of scrimmage. B) The ballcarrier is forced to adjust, relying on himself over the play design. C) Lawrence Timmons does this in a 1 vs. 1 situation.

Timmons good run stuff

Lawrence Timmons is a sure tackler and a hard-hitter. He rarely whiffs, and there are few linebackers in the league that are as apt at finishing 1 vs. 1 tackles against opposing ball-carriers. As seen in the image above, Timmons made himself into a wall that the runningback simply wasn’t going to get around. When met head on there are few offensive players in the league capable of brushing it off.

While he struggles at times in coverage, if he is in the area he will rectify his mistake and tackle the receiver.

His ball-tracking abilty and knack for wrapping up the ball carrier help compensate for his lack of ability defending passes down field. While he does not get to the edge as quickly as he used to, on account of slowly fading physical abilities, he still manages to track down receivers in the flat:

Timmons ood job tracking, but clearly not sideline guy

Just don’t ask him to go downfield.

Timmons also brings much needed tenacity and leadership to a team that values grit in it’s players. He isn’t always going to be perfect, but he doesn’t take plays off and his motor stops for no man:

Timmons motor isn't issue

While he doesn’t get to the ball as quickly as he used to or make as many game-changing plays, it is safe to assume his excellence wrapping up defenders will continue in a Miami linebacker corps desperate for consistency in that area. Assuming the team puts Timmons in a position to succeed, he should be an outstanding mentor, field general, and enforcer over the middle of the field in 2017:

What Miami needs Timmons for - just middle

Weaknesses:

Timmons still has strength to spare, but age has sapped some of his speed and agility. His instincts, football IQ, and mental acquity ensure that he still has value against the pass as a blitzing linebacker and in limited zone coverage. After all, how bad can he be if he snagged two interceptions last year? However, there is a lot to be concerned about his defense against the pass; he struggles at times if he’s asked to do too much in pass-coverage. Shiftier runningbacks and wide receivers are especially troublesome for the veteran. When asked to cover agile runningbacks or receivers out of the backfield or downfield, you’re asking for trouble.

Though the Patriots always make defenders look silly, this completion on a slant route is indicative of some of Timmons’ shortcomings:

Timmons victimized by Patriots (Dr. 1)

Another example of Timmons’ struggles is this completion to receiving back Duke Johnson Jr:

Timmons liability in coverage

Timmons simply cannot keep up with the agile runningback out of the backfield. When Duke Johnson makes his cut upfield on an angle, Timmons is left scrambling behind him.

In addition to his well-documented struggles in coverage, Timmons can be rendered ineffective against particularly powerful offensive linemen. While these occurances are few and far between, I would be remiss if I told you that they did not happen.

Timmons Manhandled by Laremy

While getting pushed around by Laremy Tunsil is hardly something to be ashamed of, it isn’t exactly something that we love seeing. Considering the fact that Timmons is declining rather than vice versa, I am concerned that these instances will become more commonplace as time goes on.

The Skinny:

If you aren’t blind, you know that the Dolphins’ linebacker unit was among the worst in the entire NFL throughout the 2016 season. Timmons isn’t perfect, as his physical limits and struggles in pass-coverage show. However, he has a floor as a three-down field general in the middle of the field that will punish offenses that pound the rock on the interior. While Timmons alone won’t be a solution, a player of his caliber and experience will represent a significant upgrade over anyone the Dolphins utilized last year (outside of Kiko Alonso). The established veteran will help stem the bleeding of the linebacker corps, improve the team’s run-defense, and help to bring along the next generation of Dolphins linebackers, whomever they may be.

 

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