The Dolphins managed to stay in the NFL’s spotlight for the duration of offseason activity. Spending $178.73 million on new contracts tends to get people’s attention. And Jeff Ireland aggressively trading up to the third overall pick for Dion Jordan was one of the major bombshells of the draft.
But it’s easy to make headlines in March and April. Will the Dolphins remain at the forefront of league discussion come September and throughout the season? Or will they fade into obscurity like so many other free-agency splurgers have over the years and linger in mediocrity like the Dolphins of old?
Let’s evaluate the Dolphins unit by unit to get a feel for how competitive this roster should be in 2013. We kick this series off with Miami’s secondary- a group that was the team’s Achilles’ heel a year ago but was addressed heavily in free agency and the draft.
Conerback: Brent Grimes, Jamar Taylor (R)
Nickel: Richard Marshall
Free Safety: Chris Clemons
Strong Safety: Reshad Jones
I expect to see Jamar Taylor earn a starting job sooner rather than later. He was arguably a first-round talent that only slipped because of a medical concern. If one of the veterans has a say in the matter I expect it to be Richard Marshall.
Marshall is borderline starting material when healthy, but had his fair of struggles last season. He projects as a better fit in the nickel than on the boundary, so the hope is Taylor will play well enough in camp and the preseason to start opposite Brent Grimes come Week 1. And if Grimes is 100% recovered from the torn Achilles he suffered last year, he will, without a doubt, be one of the starters.
We should see the same starting-safety tandem we saw in 2012. Some believe Kelcie McCray was kept around to compete with Chris Clemons at free safety, but McCray likely lacks the experience to unseat a reliable veteran like Clemons.
Elites: Reshad Jones S
Solid starters: Brent Grimes CB
League average: Chris Clemons S, Jamar Taylor CB (R), Richard Marshall CB
Backup material: Dimitri Patterson CB, Will Davis CB (R), Nolan Carroll CB, Kelcie McCray S, Jimmy Wilson CB/S
Camp bodies: Don Jones CB (R), R.J. Stanford CB, De’Andre Presley CB, Julian Posey CB, Jordan Kovacs S (R), Keelan Johnson S (R)
After the monster season Reshad Jones had in 2012, the former Georgia Bulldog has emerged as an elite safety. But that status is certainly pending. He needs to prove last season wasn’t a fluke. And I expect him to considering he will be a free agent in 2014 and is another Pro-Bowl caliber season away from cashing in with a big-money contract in Miami or elsewhere.
The rookies start off low on the totem pole simply because they are all huge question marks regardless of how much potential they have. Although, already proclaiming Jamar Taylor a league average corner may be generous.
(Scale: Super Bowl caliber, playoff caliber, middle of the road, below league average, poor)
Cornerback: Below league average
The Dolphins have the potential to be much improved at the cornerback position this season, which isn’t saying much considering how dreadful Miami’s corners were a year ago. But there is currently too much uncertainty to say with any confidence that the Dolphins are average at the position.
If Brent Grimes plays as well as he did before the injury, if Jamar Taylor is as talented as advertised, and if a reliable nickel emerges, this could be a playoff-caliber unit. But questions need to be answered before we can even say they are middle of the road.
Safety: Playoff caliber
Reshad Jones was one of the league’s top safeties a year ago. That helps. But Chris Clemons has only been average. The Dolphins resigned Clemons to a one-year deal, which will likely prove to be his last chance to become the team’s long-term answer at free safety.
Clemons has the speed to prevent big plays and he isn’t often exposed in coverage. But a lack of play-making ability – only three interceptions in four seasons – has made Clemons dispensable. If Clemons can continue to limit mistakes, though, Reshad Jones should catapult the position into playoff-caliber status for a second consecutive season.
Secondary: Middle of the road
Having an elite safety propels the Dolphins’ secondary some. But the uncertainty at cornerback prevents the unit from being anything more than average on paper.
Miami’s secondary has a high ceiling. But it also has a low floor. The health of Brent Grimes and the development of Jamar Taylor will go a long way in how improved this secondary will be in 2013.
But I do expect improvement regardless. The Dolphins were 27th a year ago against the pass thanks, in large part, to a lack of depth at cornerback. It’s still uncertain if Miami will have two reliable starters at corner, but Jeff Ireland certainly has improved the depth at the position.
What do you guys think? Give me your take on the state of the Dolphins’ franchise in the secondary.