Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Dolphins sign Pro Bowl return specialist Clifton Smith

The Miami Dolphins have made major strides in beefing up their return game today, signing former Buccaneers' Pro Bowl return specialist Clifton Smith to a contract.

The Dolphins already had an open spot on their 53-man active roster, having waived offensive lineman Joe Reitz on Tuesday. (Reitz has since been claimed off waivers by the Colts.) Primarily a guard, Reitz had been claimed off waivers from the Baltimore Ravens just two days before.

Smith joins the Dolphins after being waived by Tampa Bay during final cuts last weekend. He spent two seasons with the Buccaneers after signing as an undrafted rookie in 2008 out of Fresno State.

After a Pro Bowl rookie campaign that saw him average 27.6 yards per kick return, 14.1 yards per punt return, and take one each back for touchdowns, Smith averaged 29.1 yards per kick return in 11 games last season before missing the remaining five with a concussion.

In addition to his return numbers, Smith has 12 times for 47 yards, caught six passes for 28 yards, and recorded nine tackles.

Details of Smith's contract have not been disclosed, although I would guess it to be in the range of two years.

The jersey number he will wear in Miami is also not yet known, although the No. 22 he wore in Tampa Bay is technically available with running back Kory Sheets on injured reserve.


It's no surprise to see Reitz cut, as he has no regular season experience and is still very raw three years removed from being an undrafted college basketball player from Western Michigan.

Reitz was slated to work at left guard for the Dolphins, and seems likely to rejoin the team's practice squad (which has a spot open) once he clears waivers.

The Dolphins have certainly made their share of questionable moves in the past week, placing Will Allen on injured reserve and releasing a handful of quality veterans for unknown youngsters and borderline NFL talent.

The addition of Smith, however, is one move I can get on-board with 100 percent. Smith is an excellent returner and one that easily upgrades both the kickoff and punt return spots for the Dolphins.

I liked what I saw of rookie cornerback Nolan Carroll as a kickoff returner in the preseason, but Smith is a bit better and has done it for two NFL seasons. I was not in favor of having Patrick Cobbs return kicks, because he's just not explosive enough.

Even better, Smith's signing should get Davone Bess off punt returns. We all like the guy as a sure-handed slot receiver, but he offers nothing in the return game. Bess averaged just 7.5 yards per return last season (with a long of 22 yards) and fumbled three punts.

Smith isn't perfect, as he's had fumbling problems of his own (three on special teams and four on offense in 20 career games) and had problems dealing with two concussions suffered last season.

But while Smith's ball security and durability are concerns, there is no doubt he brings the home-run threat the Dolphins have been lacking in the return game.

As always, check out the updated projected depth chart reflecting these transactions here.

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