In a passing league, the Miami Dolphins’ secondary didn’t have the necessary pieces to contain the league’s top quarterbacks in 2012.
Finishing 27th against the pass wasn’t going to cut it for a team with playoff aspirations, so the Dolphins went out and signed former Pro Bowl corner Brent Grimes and used three draft picks on defensive backs in April.
The Dolphins’ secondary could potentially be much improved in 2013, but there is no shortage of questions regarding the new-look unit entering camp.
Will Brent Grimes return to form? How big of an impact will the rookies have?
Here’s my outlook and predictions.
Reshad Jones, SS: As the unquestioned leader of the Dolphins’ secondary, Reshad Jones emerged as one of the league’s top safeties a year ago.
He was fantastic in run support, a reliable open-field tackler, fared well in coverage and picked off four passes. Jones is a hard-hitter, a game-changer and he’s the heart of the Dolphins’ secondary.
The question is: How long will he remain in Miami?
Jones is entering the final year of his contract. He’s made it clear he’d like a multiyear extension with the Dolphins. And he deserves nothing less.
But general manager Jeff Ireland doesn’t appear to be in a hurry to begin contract negotiations. The franchise tag could certainly come into play in 2014, but the Dolphins might be best served to lock him up for four or five seasons.
Brent Grimes, CB: The Dolphins may have pulled off the steal of free agency by signing former Falcon Brent Grimes. Grimes was on his way to becoming one of the top corners in football before going down with a torn Achilles last September.
He’s usually one of the smallest players on the field (generously listed at 5-10, 190), but makes up for it with elite athleticism. His quickness is top-notch and his 42-inch vertical allows him to go up and make plays on the football.
Grimes is a ballhawk. He picked off a combined 11 passes in 2009-2010, and although he only intercepted one ball in 2011, he graded out as one of Pro Football Focus’ top players in coverage.
If he proves to be 100 percent recovered from last season’s nasty injury, he’ll instantly make the Dolphins more competitive in the secondary and improve the entire defense.
Jamar Taylor, CB: Former Boise State Bronco Jamar Taylor was selected in the second round of this year’s draft to compete for a starting spot. As long as Grimes is healthy, he’ll be the starter on one side. Opposite him, there is an opening.
Richard Marshall is currently in the lead for the job, but Taylor could provide some fierce competition by playing catch-up in a hurry. The rookie missed most of the team’s offseason work after undergoing sports hernia surgery, but a strong showing at the beginning of camp will thrust him right back into the mix.
Quick feet, fluid hips and physicality make up Taylor’s skill set. If he’s healthy and on his game, it’ll be difficult to resist putting him on the first team.
Chris Clemons, FS: The Dolphins believe they may be able to upgrade at free safety in the future, but they weren’t willing to part ways with perhaps the most undervalued member of the secondary in Chris Clemons this offseason, re-signing the fifth-year pro to a one-year deal.
Clemons was overshadowed by Reshad Jones’ coming out party last year, but quietly had a solid campaign. 98 tackles and two interceptions highlighted Clemons’ best season to date.
As one of the fastest players on the team, Clemons has the range to cover ground quickly and does an adequate job in coverage. The Dolphins would probably prefer more of a ballhawk patrolling center field, but Clemons rarely makes mistakes.
Will Davis, CB: Will Davis projects to provide the Dolphins with depth in 2013, but could push for snaps as the season progresses and an eventual starting role in a season or two.
Davis is a fluid athlete with quick feet and loose hips. He has the ability to cover receivers on the boundary or in the slot, but may lack the top-end speed to ever become a true shutdown corner.
It’ll be interesting to see how he develops in camp and whether or not he’s at least able to lock down a spot on the second team. But even if he disappoints, the Dolphins aren’t in the business of giving up on third-round picks.
Richard Marshall, CB: Marshall is listed as a possible cut simply because there are two relatively high draft picks behind him on the depth chart and he’ll be paid $4.55 million in 2013.
If the young guns excel and Marshall struggles, there’s no stopping the Dolphins from cutting bait. Realistically, though, Jamar Taylor and Will Davis will have somewhat of a learning curve and a veteran presence like Marshall’s will be useful.
Marshall has the versatility to play on the boundary or inside at the nickel, so even if he’s passed up for a starting job, he’d likely still see plenty of snaps on passing downs.
He was off to somewhat of a slow start in his first four games as a Dolphin before going down with a back injury, though. If he’s able to return to his 2011 self–when he had a solid season as a member of the Arizona Cardinals–he’ll be a key contributor regardless if he starts or not.
Jimmy Wilson, S/CB: The Dolphins were forced to move Jimmy Wilson to cornerback in his first two seasons out of necessity. The former seventh-round pick has always had more potential at safety, though.
Wilson is converting back to safety for base packages. When the Dolphins are in the nickel, however, Wilson may move back to corner in order to cover the slot. He saw plenty of action as the starting nickel corner in minicamp and it will be interesting to see if he retains that role in training camp.
Wilson’s versatility and special-teams contributions should assure that he keeps his roster spot this season.
Dimitri Patterson, CB: Patterson will be paid $4.5 million by the Dolphins this season if he isn’t cut. That alone has many predicting he’ll become a camp causality.
But he’s a decent corner with starting experience. If he proves to be one of the Dolphins’ top three players at the position in camp, chances are they won’t mind paying him.
If the rookies, in particular, show some promise, though, Patterson will likely be on the outs.
Nolan Carroll, CB: Because the Dolphins were thin at corner a year ago, Nolan Carroll was forced into the starting lineup. His play, though, was far from starting caliber.
The experience was valuable for Carroll and he still could be an asset against multiple wide-receiver sets. But he’s a replaceable player if others impress.
Kelcie McCray, FS: A foot injury relegated McCray to injured reserve as a rookie. The fact that the Dolphins kept him there all season, though, suggests they are high on his potential.
Despite not playing a snap in regular-season game, McCray enters camp as the favorite to backup Chris Clemons at free safety. But he’s still in need of a strong camp and preseason.
Don Jones, S: There was some initial confusion about what position Don Jones would play after the Dolphins selected him in the seventh round of April’s draft.
He spent some time working in the nickel, but it appeared as if the coaches had moved him to safety at the conclusion of minicamp. He’s an impressive athlete, but has his work cut out for him if he’s going to make the team.
R.J. Stanford, CB: The former Carolina Panther received the most action of his three-year career in Miami last season. The Dolphins were thin at the position, though, and with promising new faces in town, Stanford’s prospects of making the team have taken a turn for the worst.
Jordan Kovacs, S: He’s an undersized rookie who lacks ideal quickness and speed. But he’s a hard-nosed player who was a captain on Michigan’s defense.
Julian Posey, CB: Posey appeared in two games last season for the Dolphins. His competition for playing time will be much stronger this time around, though.
DeAndre Presley, CB: The Appalachian State product dressed for four games in his rookie season with the Dolphins, but didn’t record so much as a tackle.
Keelan Johnson, S: Johnson tallied 88 tackles and five interceptions during his senior year at Arizona State. He’s a longshot to make the team, but at least one of Miami’s backup safeties is far from proven.
1. Brent Grimes
2. Richard Marshall
3. Jamar Taylor
4. Nolan Carroll
5. Will Davis
1. Jimmy Wilson
2. Richard Marshall
1. Reshad Jones
2. Jimmy Wilson
1. Chris Clemons
2. Kelcie McCray
Countdown to camp: 3 days