Now that Joe Philbin has a complete coaching staff in place for next year, their next assignment is to assess the talent and production of each and every player currently on the Dolphins’ roster. It’s standard for any new coaching regime to turn over a new leaf and bring in upgraded personnel. At this moment, no one player is a “shoo-in” to be on this team next year. If you suffered from injuries last year and didn’t see much playing time on the field, nor was considered a major contributor to the team, it’s time to start updating your resume. One of the guys already on the roster bubble for 2012 is free safety, Chris Clemons.
In February 2009, the Trifecta (Parcells, Ireland, & Sparano) signed the overly hyped free agent, Gibril Wilson, to a five year contract worth $27.5M, with $8M in guarantees. Bonnie and Clyde would have been impressed with this modern day high robbery. Two months later in the 2009 draft, the Dolphins selected Chris Clemons in the fifth round out of Clemson to compete with and back up Wilson.
The pieces to the puzzle were starting to fall into place and our issues at free safety were supposed to be resolved. However, it didn’t take long to notice Wilson’s ineptness in tackling and covering TEs to realize he was the weakest link in the secondary, which led to his release following the 2009 season. Essentially, Wilson’s roster replacement was Reshad Jones, who was drafted in the fifth round out of Georgia in 2010.
With Wilson gone and Jones still learning the ropes as a rookie, this opportunity opened up a small door for Clemons to silence the critics and establish himself as the every down starter at free safety in 2010. That year, he played in 15 games, recording 61 tackles with two forced fumbles and an interception. He missed just one game against the Chicago Bears on Thursday Night Football because of a severe hamstring injury. When one door closes, another one opens. This allowed Jones to get some playing time to showcase his abilities at free safety.
It’s important to know that Clemons also battled through a groin injury during the entire second half of the 2010 season, which required him to have off-season surgery to repair. Clemons’ injuries cast doubt about his ability to stay healthy and consistent in the secondary going into the 2011 season. This officially created an open competition between Clemons and Jones.
The injury bug would remain with Clemons all the way through training camp and reared its ugly head during the final preseason game against the Dallas Cowboys when he suffered a leg injury. Jones and Clemons were already battling each other for the starting position, alternating snaps with the first-stringers. The injury to Clemons kept him out of practice leading up to the season opener on Monday Night Football against the Pats. Thus, Jones would ultimately beat out Clemons for the starting spot at free safety.
To make matters worse, Clemons managed to reinjure his hamstring in the little playing time he had in the opening loss to the Pats. This nagging hamstring issue would keep him out of the lineup for the majority of 2011 season, making only a few appearances in the secondary and on special teams.
As the old saying goes, “You won’t make the club sitting in the tub.” This quote not only applies to Clemons, but for any other players who are constantly icing their injuries in the tub, rehabbing to get healthy and back on the field. Considering his history with injuries and getting beat out by Jones, Clemons may be the odd man out in the eyes of the new coaching staff.
With the NFL Combine beginning on February 22nd, free agency starting on March 13th, and the NFL draft kicking off on April 26th, the new regime will be turning over every stone to find people who can produce, contribute, and stay healthy. The coaches have no loyalty to any of these Dolphin players. If after their assessments they consider you a liability, they will be looking to replace you. Clemons has an uphill battle to not only prove himself as a major contributor to this team, but that he is also capable of staying healthy. Even though training camp is several months away, Clemons is officially on the bubble watch.