It’s pretty obvious what Richard Marshall’s release on Tuesday night means for the Dolphins’ starting cornerback spot opposite Brent Grimes: Dimitri Patterson has won the job after a solid training camp.
It’s a little unclear what Miami plans to do at nickel corner, however, as Marshall was moving inside to cover the slot on many passing downs.
Here are the candidates to assume the role:
A logical choice would be moving Will Davis inside, who spend a good portion of training camp backing up Marshall at the nickel. The rookie third-round pick has displayed a fascinating ability to produce takeaways at practice, recording double-digit interceptions in only three and a half weeks of camp.
He’s still fairly raw, though. Getting beat on a double move and conceding a touchdown in Houston on Saturday night was a primary example of that.
But he certainly has the skill set the play the nickel, possessing a fluid pair of hips and light feet. Davis may lack the top-end speed necessary to be a shutdown boundary corner, but his outlook is promising covering slot receivers. It just depends on if the Dolphins believe he’s ready to do so as a rookie.
Yes, Patterson will open the season as one of the two starting boundary corners. But that’s not stopping Miami from moving him inside to cover the slot on passing downs. In fact, Patterson had more experience playing the nickel than the boundary when the Dolphins signed him last December.
According to Chris Kouffman of Bleacher Report, Patterson covered the slot a combined 448 snaps during his two-year tenure in Cleveland, and only gave up 38 completions for 411 yards and one touchdown. That’s impressive work for Patterson, who is clearly the team’s most experienced at the position.
To move him inside on obvious passing situations, the Dolphins must find another boundary corner who they trust to replace him with, however. They would have to rely on Nolan Carroll or one of the rookies to handle the outside in said scenario.
The Dolphins’ long-term vision for their second-round pick is undoubtedly to start him on the boundary at some point, but he’s quietly being cross-trained as a possible nickel option during his rookie preseason. Taylor covered the slot on all 12 of his snaps during Saturday night’s game in Houston, surrendering only one four-yard completion.
In the likely event he isn’t ready to compete for a starting role given how much time he’s missed with a groin injury, pushing for the nickel spot would be nice consolation for the Boise State product.
But I still imagine the Dolphins would like to see Will Davis earn the job if it’s given to a rookie, as the team eventually wants Taylor to be a starter with Brent Grimes. The Dolphins might have to wait unit 2014 for that to become a reality, but giving him as many reps on the outside as possible is ideal in hopes he can take over for Patterson next season.
If neither of the rookies are ready to handle nickel duties and the Dolphins want to keep Patterson on the boundary, Nolan Carroll becomes the most likely candidate. Carroll has mostly been a boundary corner during his time in Miami, but has covered the slot in brief spots.
The coaching staff has always spoke highly of him and he’s been a solid special-teams player in three years with the team. But Carroll is a liability in coverage at times and I don’t see that changing with a move inside.
I think the Dolphins are hoping one of the rookies steps up to play the nickel or the boundary in order for Patterson to cover the slot, because Carroll isn’t the long-term answer.
As a last resort, the Dolphins could move Jimmy Wilson back to nickel corner, where he lined up in 2012 and the majority of offseason training before converting to safety. Even at safety, the Dolphins could allow Wilson to pull double-duty by covering the slot.
Wilson struggled in that role last season, though, and Miami wouldn’t have moved him to safety or drafted two corners in April if they felt otherwise.
If the Dolphins are forced to roll with either Nolan Carroll or Jimmy Wilson at nickel cornerback, they cheeped out and made a mistake by letting go of Richard Marshall. It’s a passing league with elite quarterbacks who will pick on both Carroll and Wilson.
However, if rookies Will Davis and Jamar Taylor are ready to excel in their first seasons, releasing Marshall will eventually be applauded. One of the two must be able to consistently cover the slot or play the boundary, which would allow Dimitri Patterson to move inside.
Best-case scenario: Will Davis locks up the spot with more consistent coverage and the ball-hawking ability he put on display during training camp.
Worst-case scenario: Davis proves too raw to handle the role as a rookie and a veteran like Nolan Carroll or Jimmy Wilson gets the nod.