In the 2011-12 season, the Miami Dolphins ranked 6th in the league in points allowed. The Phins’ rushing defense ranked 3rd in the league in yards allowed. So far, so good. Unfortunately, Miami was 25th in passing yards allowed, keeping the defense from truly being elite. Enter a new defensive coordinator, Kevin Coyle, the former defensive back coach for the Cincinnati Bengals, who helped a patchwork unit rank 9th versus the pass last year. With an improved secondary, the Phins’ defense can be downright scary. A player that can thrust himself into all-pro status this year and spearhead Miami’s defensive ascension is cornerback Vontae Davis.
|Vontae Davis||5’11″||206 lbs||24||4||Illinois|
Vontae Davis is the best cornerback in Miami and is highly regarded around the league. He is the total package of athleticism and instinct, making him strong in coverage and equally as capable against the run. He was inconsistent last year, bringing his best during the latter portion of the season after being benched in Week 9 for being late to practice. Not only was he late, but he brought the stench of alcohol and the associated hangover. Ironically, the Phins earned their first win that week when the visited the Kansas City Chiefs.
Coyle likes his corners to press man-to-man and be physical, which will play to Davis’ strengths. That, coupled with extra pressure on opposing quarterbacks courtesy of the 4-3 defense, will likely help No.21 increase his touchdown total, from one, in his fourth season. About the only thing that Davis does not possess physically is above-average height and wingspan, which his partner, on the opposite side of the field, fortunately has.
|Sean Smith||6’3″||216 lbs||25||4||Utah|
Sean Smith is not only tall and long but he also possesses top-end speed. His weakness is a thin frame and so far, he has shown less defensive awareness than Davis. We’ll see how Smith adjusts to Coyle’s affinity for physical play from his corners. Last year, Smith provided little as a playmaker, with only two interceptions and seven passes defended, but he has all the tools to succeed in his upcoming contract year.
|Richard Marshall||5’11||198||27||7||Fresno St|
On paper, Richard Marshall is an upgrade over Will Allen, as he is entering his prime and is coming off a productive year with the Arizona Cardinals. He fits the bill for the Phins as he is fast and physical. In the modern pass-happy NFL, even as a third corner, Marshall will see plenty of snaps. Last year, Ray Horton, Arizona’s defensive coordinator, called Marshall his most valuable player, as he showed great versatility, playing cornerback and safety as needed. Before his stint as a Cardinal, Marshall played 5 seasons with the Carolina Panthers and was not re-signed after a poor 2010. He has averaged more than 80 tackles a season in his 6-year career.
Nolan Carroll will likely make the team as the fourth cornerback since it appears the Phins want to play Jimmy Wilson as a safety. Carroll will provide depth and play on special teams. Last year, he made some headlines when New York Jets’ strength coach Sal Alosi, tripped him, while he was running out of bounds, in NFL Week 14.
Miami will likely keep five cornerbacks and those eligible for the fifth spot are:
Vince Agnew, a very fast undrafted rookie out of Central Michigan.
Jonathan Wade, a marginal NFL player who played four games for Coyle last year.
Quinten Lawrence, a converted wide-receiver who played for the Kansas City Chiefs.
Trenton Hughes, an undrafted rookie out of Maryland.
Marcus Brown, who has played one NFL game as a defensive back for the Seattle Seahawks.
Kevyn Scott, an undrafted rookie out of Syracuse.
Cornerback will be a key position for the Miami Dolphins in 2012-2013. The Phins have a talented tandem in Vontae Davis and Sean Smith, each of which have the potential to be an all-pro. If they raise their game, Miami’s defense can be the league’s best.
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