There won't be anymore hand holding, or coddling with the Miami Dolphins' secondary.
Yeremiah Bell and Will Allen, the two veterans who served as the leaders of that unit for numerous years, have moved on, signing with other AFC East teams.
The Dolphins turned the page on their tenures hoping their absence would force the team's young cornerbacks and safeties to speed up their maturation process.
Sean Smith and Vontae Davis are entering their fourth season as starting cornerbacks, and three safeties on the roster have started at least one full NFL season.
Will the members of Miami's secondary show they are ready to stand on their own two feet, serving as a reliable last line of defense for Miami's defense? Or will communication breakdowns in the backend handcuff the Dolphins?
DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters – CB Vontae Davis, CB Sean Smith, FS Chris Clemons, SS Reshad Jones. Backups: CB Richard Marshall, CB Nolan Carroll, SS Jimmy Wilson, FS Tyrone Culver, SS Tyrell Johnson, CB Quinten Lawrence, SS Anderson Russell, CB Vincent Agnew, CB Marcus Brown, CB Trenton Hughes, FS Kelcie McCray, CB Kevyn Scott
BY THE NUMBERS: The Dolphins finished 25th in the NFL in passing defense, allowing teams to average 12.1 yards per reception and 7.17 per pass attempt.
ON THE HOT SEAT: Johnson signed this offseason with the expectation he would be contending for the starting strong safety job thanks to his elite measurables. But he has consistently run with the third team defense most of the offseason. Miami might keep five safeties, but if they don't this former second-round pick is in jeopardy of not making the cut. He'll need to perform well in camp, especially as a special teams contributor, to have his stay extended.
THE KEEPERS: The Dolphins will likely keep five cornerbacks and four or five safeties on the 53-man roster. Davis, Smith, Clemons, Jones, Marshall and Wilson are virtual locks unless they fall short of expectations. Carroll must prove he's ready to take his game to the next level to remain the fourth cornerback. A strong camp from Wade, who has played for defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle during his Bengals days, and Lawrence, a converted NFL receiver, could put them on solid footing.
BREAKDOWN: Davis and Smith have collectively started 80 games since joining the Dolphins in 2009. Davis' combination of speed and power, and Smith’s blend of length and speed make them a promising duo. Their skills work well together.
Marshall is expected to serve as the nickel cornerback and should help Miami’s cornerback trio play more physical at the line of scrimmage. Marshall, who was added during free agency, played half his season at safety for the Cardinals last year. But the Dolphins view him as the team's third cornerback, and a possible successor for Smith, who is entering the final year of his deal.
Jones has locked up one of the safety spots because of his strong offseason performance, and the Dolphins envision him replacing Yeremiah Bell as the secondary's top playmaker. But the coaches are struggling to find him a suitable partner.
Clemons, a starter in 2010, is the frontrunner. But his play has been conservative over the years, and if that doesn't change he could be pushed by Culver and Wilson. Culver's solid play late last season as Jones replacement helped the Dolphins defense tighten. His intellect and communication skills separates him from the pack. Wilson flashes instincts and playmaking ability from time to time his rookie year, but this converted cornerback has plenty to learn.
The Dolphins are looking for a safety with the coverage skills to play centerfield, serving as the last line of defense, and at times handle a receiver one-on-one. But most importantly, Miami needs someone with the communication skills to keep the defensive backs on the same page, preventing breakdowns that lead to big plays.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times