At Senior Bowl, Dolphins assistant gets up-close look at defensive line prospects

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At the first practice of the 2024 Senior Bowl for the National Team on Tuesday morning, the defensive linemen’s drills looked a lot like a scene at the Dolphins’ facility.

There was defensive line coach Austin Clark, guiding players through an assortment of drills and fine-tuning the nuances of their technique after each rep.

Clark, who just finished his third season coaching Miami’s defensive linemen, is in Mobile this week, filling in for Kenny Baker, who is leaving his position as the team’s assistant defensive line coach to become the defensive line coach at the University of Texas.

The Senior Bowl coaching staff is composed of coaches from around the NFL, and the week is an opportunity for Clark to get an up-close look at some of the top defensive line prospects in the 2024 NFL Draft.

The defensive line was a strength for a Dolphins defense that finished top-10 in yards allowed for the first time since 2010. Both Zach Sieler and Christian Wilkins set a career-high in sacks in 2023, with 10 and 9, respectively.

However, Miami might need to address the defensive line position this offseason. Wilkins and Raekwon Davis are set to become unrestricted free agents. Both players have expressed their desire to stay in Miami but the Dolphins have a precarious cap situation, projected to be about $50 million over the cap. General manager Chris Grier said at the team’s end-of-season news conference that the team got close to striking a deal with Wilkins before the season started but the two sides couldn’t close the gap.

This makes Clark’s time in Mobile to view some of the best prospects in the draft class all the more important.

One of the standouts from Clark’s group was Baylor’s Gabe Hall. The 6-6, 292-pound Hall made multiple plays in team drills, using his strength to get into the backfield and disrupt run plays. He also won multiple reps in one-on-ones.

After the first of three practices before the Senior Bowl game on Saturday, Hall relished the opportunity to receive coaching from an NFL staff member ahead of the start of his pro career.

“He just wants us to have effort and energy, man,” Hall said of Clark. “I’m not going to lie, when I came here, I was a little nervous. NFL coaches [are here] and stuff like that. But the dude was so cool. He’s understanding and it exceeded my expectations of how I thought he was going to be.”

In Hall’s last three seasons at Baylor, he recorded 11.5 sacks and 16.5 tackles for loss. In 2022 and 2023, he was named All-Big 12 honorable mention.

While his size — 6-6 and 292 pounds — quickly stands out, especially as he overpowered offensive linemen on Tuesday, Hall said he wants to show off his athleticism for teams, too.

Jan 30, 2024; Mobile, AL, USA; National defensive lineman Gabe Hall of Baylor (95) works out on practice dummies during practice for the National team at Hancock Whitney Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 30, 2024; Mobile, AL, USA; National defensive lineman Gabe Hall of Baylor (95) works out on practice dummies during practice for the National team at Hancock Whitney Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports

“I want to use my speed and my quickness, first of all,” he said. “My length is also a big part of my game. I want to be more consistent with my play. That’s what I want to showcase today. I want to dominate every play.”

Teams are also conducting interviews with prospects this week and Clark wasn’t the only member of the Dolphins’ contingent that left a strong impression on Hall.

He noted the Dolphins and Pittsburgh Steelers as teams he enjoyed talking to.

“I just really like everybody that I talked to from there,” Hall said of Miami’s staff.

Oregon’s Brandon Dorlus also had a strong first practice under Clark’s coaching and he has a local tie. Dorlus is a Fort Lauderdale native who played high school at Deerfield Beach. Dorlus was named to the All-Pac 12 team in each of the last three seasons and was a first-team selection in 2023 and 2021. Over a five-year career at Oregon, the 6-3 and 290-pound Dorlus had 12 sacks and 27 tackles for loss.

Clark’s coaching focused on “the little stuff,” Dorlus said, such as keeping the right pad level and their eyes being in the right place. Dorlus also said he’s a versatile player who can line up in multiple spots and drop back in coverage in addition to rushing the passer.

“I just love not playing one position all game,” he said. “I love moving around, giving everybody work on the [offensive line].”

While Dorlus said he didn’t grow up a Dolphins fan (he loved watching the Steelers and their defenses), he said it was an honor to receive tips from a coach with his hometown team.

“It was a blessing to be coached by an NFL team and the Dolphins are the hometown team, so it’s crazy to have that,” he said.