DAVIE, Fla. (AP) -Now that Matt Roth has stepped back from the line of scrimmage, he's finding it easier to make his way into the opposing backfield.
Converted this year from defensive end to outside linebacker by the Miami Dolphins, Roth is embracing his new position for a defense that has been dominant the past two games.
The change means less wear and tear on the 6-foot-4, 280-pound Roth, who as a lineman found himself butting heads with tackles outweighing him by 20 pounds or more. Now he's fresher after games.
``I'm in the hot tub instead of the cold tub,'' Roth said with a grin. ``It feels good on my body and my confidence.''
The fourth-year pro is dropping into pass coverage, but he's also blitzing on occasion from the strong side and finding his way upfield in run defense. In Sunday's upset over San Diego, Roth had a sack and three tackles for a loss.
``Matt Roth played one heck of a ballgame,'' coach Tony Sparano said.
n the new regime drafted ends Phillip Merling, Kendall Langford and Lionel Dotson in April, Roth's roster spot appeared in jeopardy.
Instead, Sparano, Bill Parcells and defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni came up with the idea of moving Roth to linebacker. The change coincided with the new coaching staff's switch from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4.
``We put Matt there in a couple of preseason games and started to like what we saw,'' Sparano said. ``He started to catch on a little bit quicker than maybe even we thought he might. The next thing you know, we thought this would be a home for him.''
The biggest issue was whether Roth would be able to keep up with tight ends and running backs in pass coverage. Against San Diego he often found himself covering three-time All-Pro tight end Antonio Gates.
``There was a lot of concern all week about those matchups when they were able to get Matt on Gates one on one,'' Miami defense end Vonnie Holliday said. ``But Matt was able to play it well for us. He took a big step and is gaining the confidence of the defensive staff.''
Gates caught only one pass, and the Chargers were limited to 202 yards. With the victory, Miami improved to 2-2 heading into Sunday's game at Houston.
Roth has two sacks this season, while Joey Porter has 5 1/2 at weakside linebacker. Pressure from the flanks is one reason Miami has given up only 23 points in the past two games.
Roth played linebacker as a freshman at Iowa before switching to end for the rest of his college career. He said he was excited about the move back to his old position and conceded he might be miscast as an NFL end, especially in the new defense.
``The 3-4 is probably more of a 6-6, 300-pound-style guy,'' Roth said. ``I felt I could play, but it was taking all my energy every single play. Now I feel like I'm the big guy on the block.''
Roth acknowledged he had doubts about playing pass defense but said it helps that he's mostly in zone coverage. He loves blitzing from the position, which often leaves only a running back between him and the quarterback.
``It's a mismatch,'' he said ``A running back might be 220 pounds. I'm 280 pounds. Coming at that speed, just by pure physics, you should knock them down and get to the quarterback. They've been trying to put me in positions where I've got to win, and I've been coming through so far.''
The new role also suits Roth because of his temperament. If effort were the only requirement, he would make the Pro Bowl every year, and at linebacker he has plenty of chances to throw his body into people.
``Matt is one of those wild, crazy guys,'' Holliday said. ``It's good to see him playing well in that transition. A big credit to him. Linebacker is a fun position, and he has embraced it and is doing a great job.''

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