Safeties are the last line of defense in football, and when they aren't playing well, it spells big problems for the rest of your team.
Tasked to help against the run, coverage of tight ends, and back up the cornerbacks on deep passes, the Miami Dolphins' safety played consistently sub-par football in 2009.
Although one of the Dolphins' three Pro Bowl selections came from the position—Yeremiah Bell was named Antoine Bethea's replacement after the Colts made the Super Bowl—he was rather one dimensional, and the unit as a whole struggled.
Here are my individual and overall grades for the Dolphins' safeties in 2009:
Yeremiah Bell: B-
While he does have the occasional missed tackle, Bell is probably the most fundamentally sound tackler on the team and is usually reliable in that department. Bell led the Dolphins in tackles for the second straight season in 2009, and actually amassed 21 more than anyone on the team this season.
Bell also added 1.5 sacks on the year, while his three interceptions quadrupled his career total over the previous six seasons.
That being said, Bell did struggle in coverage once again, as he has for most of his career. He's more of a hard-hitting safety that can tackle, but isn't your ideal guy for chasing down the fastest offensive players.
Tyrone Culver: C+
Culver has been a pleasant surprise since being added in the middle of the 2008 season, establishing himself as a reliable special teams player, while also making the occasional contribution on defense.
In addition to his nine special teams tackles, Culver also played over 300 snaps on defense and amassed 16 tackles, an interception, and three pass deflections.
Culver's was solid in coverage during limited action, though it's hard to imagine he has much of a future starting in the NFL. More likely, he'll continue to serve as a third safety and special-teamer.
Chris Clemons: D+
Super-Agent Drew Rosenhaus recently signed Clemons as a client, likely in anticipation of big things to come from the Dolphins' 2009 fifth-round pick.
Those big things aren't here yet, as Clemons didn't do much during his first pro season. While he did record six tackles in special teams, Clemons struggled in both coverage and run defense at safety and gave up a few big plays in limited duty.
Gibril Wilson: F
Although he finished second on the team with 93 tackles beyond only fellow safety Yeremiah Bell, there isn't much good to say about Wilson's performance during his first season with the Dolphins.
Wilson epitomized the term "free agent bust" in 2009, performing horribly in coverage and tackling while not making one big play all season. Despite playing 943 snaps on defense for the Dolphins, Wilson didn't force one fumble or intercept one pass, while knocked down only eight.
Although Wilson can certainly be blamed for his own shortcomings, it's really the Dolphins who should take the heat for his presence in Miami in the first place.
There was simply no logic to signing a guy to a big-money deal and making him play a position for which he wasn't best-suited—free safety—especially after he was released just one year into an even bigger deal with the Oakland Raiders.
The Dolphins have certainly learned their lesson after 16 painful games with Wilson playing safety for the team, and they will almost certainly cut ties with him in the next month.
Overall Position Grade: D+
While it's true that Bell and Culver did have their good moments, Wilson's horrendous play simply brings down the average too much for other guys to make up for it.
The Dolphins can make do with Bell at strong safety despite his inadequacies in coverage, but they need an upgrade at safety when Wilson inevitably gets the ax. It's unclear if either Clemons or Culver could be that guy, and if not, they'll have to look in the draft or free agency for a long-term solution.
How would you grade the Dolphins' safeties in 2009? Share your thoughts on the forum here!