Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Miami Dolphins 2011 Offseason Preview: Secondary

The time has come to begin previewing the Dolphins' position by position entering the offseason (which we all hope officially begins next month with a new CBA). This article focuses on the secondary.

The Dolphins lost a veteran corner Will Allen to a lingering knee injury and finally parted ways with 2006 first-round disappointment Jason Allen midway through the season.

Stepping up at the position were second-year players Vontae Davis and Sean Smith, who joined Chris Clemons and Reshad Jones in having increased roles in Todd Bowles' secondary. Veteran Yeremiah Bell also returned to start at strong safety, and a nickel back Benny Sapp was added via trade before the season.

In this article, I'll look at the team's strengths and areas of need, who is under contract, who are the free agents and their prospects for being re-signed, and who they might look at via trade, free agency, and the draft.

Under Contract
  • CB Will Allen (through 2011) — After missing 10 games due to a torn ACL in 2009, Allen's recovery was slowed by more surgery and the Dolphins opted to place him on injured reserve before the 2010 season began. He restructured his deal earlier this month to remain in Miami.
  • S Jonathon Amaya (through 2011) — An undrafted rookie from Nevada, Amaya began the season the Dolphins' practice squad before making a splash on special teams 15 tackles in 10 games.
  • SS Yeremiah Bell (through 2012) — The Dolphins' starting strong safety for the fifth year running (though he missed most of 2007 with an injury), Bell topped 100 tackles for the third consecutive season and added 1.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, and an interception.
  • CB Nolan Carroll (through 2013) — A fifth-round pick out of Maryland in 2010, Carroll served as the Dolphins' primary kickoff returner and played sparingly on special teams. He notched his first career interception in Week 14 off the Jets' Mark Sanchez.
  • FS Chris Clemons (through 2012) — Taking over for Gibril Wilson as the Dolphins' starting free safety, Clemons opened 14 games and totaled 61 tackles, 1.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and his first career interception.
  • S Tyrone Culver (through 2011) — Tyrone Culver once again served as a dime back and reserve safety in 2010, totaling 25 tackles and a pass deflection.
  • CB Vontae Davis (through 2013) — The Dolphins' first-round pick in 2009, Davis started 15 games as the Dolphins' No. 1 cornerback and finished the year with 54 tackles and in interception.
  • FS Reshad Jones (through 2013) — Limited to special teams for much of the season (where he excelled), the 2010 fifth-rounder recorded his first career sack and interception on a single drive against the Titans in Week 10.
  • CB Nate Ness (through 2011) — Originally waived by the Dolphins during final cuts, Ness landed back in Miami after a brief stint with the Seahawks. He appeared in three games for the Dolphins in 2010 and recorded three tackles.
  • CB Benny Sapp (through 2011) — Acquired from the Minnesota Vikings for wide receiver Greg Camarillo during the preseason, Sapp served as the Dolphins' nickel back in 2010 and finished the year with 41 tackles, two interceptions, and 10 pass deflections.
  • CB Sean Smith (through 2012) — After a brief motivational benching early in the season, Smith regained his starting spot from Jason Allen and opened eight of 15 contests. He finished the year with 51 tackles and an interception.

Free Agents
  • The Miami Dolphins do not have any players in the secondary with expiring contracts in the 2011 offseason.


The Dolphins have something a lot of teams are desperate for, and that's two talented, young cornerbacks. Both Davis and Smith had their ups and downs in 2010, with a rough second half for Davis and constant dropped interceptions for Smith.

That being the case, both have shown plenty of ability in their first two years in the NFL and have certainly appeared as though they were well worth the early draft picks used to bring them in.

The Dolphins also have plenty of backup options to choose from, including 2010 nickel back Benny Sapp, veteran Will Allen, and a promising athlete in Nolan Carroll.

Areas of Need

The Dolphins are unsettled long-term at either safety position. First, Yeremiah Bell's mobility has always been pretty limited and he's coming off what I would consider his worst overall year to-date in coverage. He's a solid tackler and an in-the-box safety, but nothing more, and he may only have a year or two more of starting ability left.

While Chris Clemons held his own in 2010 and Reshad Jones has potential, neither player established themselves as the clear-cut answer at free safety. Clemons failed to make many big plays and had a large amount of missed opportunities, while Jones is still largely unproven and may be a better fit at strong safety.

Free Agency Outlook

The Dolphins have no real need to put much money into cornerback in free agency and won't be players for big names like Nnamdi Asomugha. With a young starting tandem in place for the coming years, any signs to the cornerback position will be of the inexpensive, depth variety.

Free agent safeties could draw a little interest for the Dolphins, but I don't see Yeremiah Bell being replaced just yet and the Dolphins are more likely to address free safety (if they don't believe in Clemons or Jones) through the draft.

One starting talent to keep in mind though could be the 49ers' Dashon Goldson, who spent his first two pro seasons playing for Dolphins' defensive coordinator Mike Nolan. Goldson had a down year in 2010 and could be had a bit cheaper than he would have been in 2009 when he totaled 94 tackles, four interceptions, and three forced fumbles.

Like cornerback, however, the Dolphins' safety additions won't be plentiful and are unlikely to come via free agency outside of the inexpensive training camp competitor here and there.

Draft Outlook

The Dolphins don't have any huge needs in the secondary outside of some potential long-term upgrading at safety, and that's a fortunate thing because the cornerback class drops off steeply after the first few players, and the safety class is pretty weak in terms of potential starters.

If the Dolphins do draft for the secondary, it wouldn't be until the mid or late rounds of the draft, just as they have one with Clemons, Carroll, and Jones in recent years.

One cornerback prospect that could intrigue the Dolphins in the third or fourth round is Colorado's Jalil Brown, who held his own playing opposite likely first-rounder Jimmy Smith. Later prospects include Michigan State's Chris L. Rucker, Chykie Brown of Texas, Cortez Allen from The Citadal, and local prospect Ryan Hill from Miami.

If the Dolphins found themselves in the second round via trade, they'd at least be tempted to consider Clemson's DeAndre McDaniel, who is the draft's best safety with a nose for the ball and a physical style of play. His upside isn't that of an elite prospect, however, and he does have some character concerns stemming from a domestic incident in 2008.

The team could also look in the later rounds for an eventual replacement for Yeremiah Bell, with Jeron Johnson (Boise State), Eugene Clifford (Tennessee State), Nate Williams (Washington) and Shiloh Keo (Idaho) all possibilities on Day 2 or 3.


The secondary's results were mixed, as the team's talented youth failed to capitalize on many opportunities, with Smith and Clemons in particular struggling to hang on to gift-wrapped interceptions.

That being said, Todd Bowles and Mike Nolan have the secondary and defense as a whole on the rise, and that is due in large part to a strong influx of young talent brought in by this regime from the draft.

It's exciting to watch the Dolphins' two corners take their games to the next level and it's a comforting feeling knowing that a starting corner shouldn't need to be on the team's list of needs for quite some time.

With the way the front seven has performed the past two seasons, the Dolphins have more than enough talent in the secondary to get them by. Safety might become an issue in the next year or two if Clemons or Jones doesn't establish themselves and Bell continues to age, but it's not an immediate concern.

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