Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Dolphins Sign Special Teams Standout Ethan Kilmer

The Dolphins' special teams unit was one of the most criticized aspects of the team in 2008, and rightly so. They got better as the season progressed, but special teams coach John Bonamego still has his work cut out for him and the Dolphins could use all the help they can get.

To that end, the Dolphins have signed fourth-year defensive back Ethan Kilmer. A seventh-round pick out of Penn State in 2006, Kilmer spent two seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals before splitting 2008 between injured reserve and unemployment.

Background

A native of Wyalusing, Pa., Kilmer was a basketball and track star in high school but did not play football. He first attended Shippensburg University from 2001-02, but again did not play football.

In 2003, Kilmer transferred to Penn State and walked on to the football team. He worked solely as a scout team player his first season before playing special teams and some free safety in 2004.

As a senior in 2005, Kilmer led the Nittany Lions with 25 special teams tackles. He also moved from safety to wide receiver and caught 15 passes for 236 yards and a touchdown. In an Orange Bowl victory over Florida State to close out his collegiate career, Kilmer caught six passes for 79 yards and a touchdown.

Prior to the 2006 NFL Draft, Kilmer ran a 4.45-second 40-yard dash and did 19 bench reps at Penn State's Pro Day. He was drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals in the seventh round with the 209th overall pick and subsequently signed a four-year contract.

A safety and emergency receiver during his rookie season, Kilmer appeared in all 16 games for the Bengals and was second on the team with 18 special teams tackles. He also recovered a fumble on special teams and returned a Drew Brees interception 52 yards for a touchdown.

A knee injury plagued Kilmer throughout the preseason and into the regular season in 2007, forcing him to miss the team's first five games. He was eventually placed on season-ending injured reserve on Oct. 16.

Unable to recover from a thigh injury during training camp in 2008, Kilmer was waived/injured on Aug. 20 and reverted to injured reserve after clearing waivers. He was outright released with an injury settlement on Oct. 9 and spent the rest of the year out of football.

Analysis

The biggest red flag when it comes to Kilmer is durability. After playing in all 16 games as a rookie, he has been plagued with injuries the last two seasons and has not played in any preseason or regular season games.

All of the injuries have been to the lower body, including the quadriceps, knees and thighs. None have been serious on the level of torn ligaments, but they've been enough to keep him off the field since 2006.

However, in what is likely a very inexpensive signing, Kilmer is a good pickup here. He's smart and a hard worker, while also possessing good speed and athleticism. He's a solid tackler on special teams and also has the versatility and experience to play wideout, cornerback and safety.

That being said, Kilmer doesn't play any of those offensive or defensive positions very well. Despite both of the team's starting safeties—Yeremiah Bell and Renaldo Hill—being free agents this offseason, Kilmer is primarily a special teamer and is unlikely to compete for a starting job in the secondary.

With Tyrone Culver seeing the most time on defense in 2008 of any of the safeties under contact, it's safe to assume he has the best chance to make the roster as a backup in 2009. That means Kilmer will compete with the likes of Jason Allen and Courtney Bryan—both primarily special teamers—for a backup gig.

While a huge disappointment on defense as the 16th overall pick in 2006, Jason Allen has turned into quite a special teamer and won't be easy for Kilmer to fend off. Courtney Bryan is solid as well, but faces a very tough battle to make the team. I'd give Kilmer the edge right now based on versatility.

It is that versatility which gives Kilmer his appeal to the Dolphins' organization. Parcells, Ireland and Sparano are big on players that contribute in multiple ways, especially when it comes to backups. The mere fact that Kilmer can, if needed, play wideout, corner and safety (even if he can't start at any of them) potentially saves the team a roster or practice squad spot that can be spent elsewhere.

However, Kilmer is no lock to make the team and will have to shine on special teams first and foremost in order to stick. He already has some tough competition on the roster and will have a handful more after free agency and the draft. He'll also have to stay healthy, which is something he hasn't been able to do in recent years.