The last time that the Miami Dolphins secondary created a cause for concern to opposing teams was in 2003. Patrick Surtain, Sam Madison, Brock Marion and Sammy Knight dawned the aqua and teal and created a sense a fear around the NFL.
Since then, the Dolphins have been trying to find players to fill those voids. The closest they came was during the 2009 NFL draft, the Dolphins drafted both Vontae Davis and Sean Smith, but had no legit safety combination that created any ounce of fear.
In 2010, the Dolphins selected Reshad Jones in the fifth round. That selection turned out to be a steal, however, it took Jones a few years to develop into the player he is today. While his development was progressing, it looked like both Davis and Smith were looking like promising cornerstones to the Dolphins defensive system. However, as in the NFL, Smith left the Dolphins to sign with the Kansas City Chiefs (as the Dolphins front office, at that time, didn’t think he was worth 6 million a year) and in that same off-season, the same front office, determined that Davis was too dramatic to deserve a roster spot and traded the gifted first rounder to the Indianapolis Colts.
In parallel, Reshad Jones game was starting to take shape and he was slowly but steadily taking his game to the next level.
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Regardless, of what could have been with Davis, Smith and Jones, there was one position that still was lacking a true starting player. The Dolphins tried pairing Jones with Chris Clemons, Jason Allen, Louis Delmas, Chris Crocker, Michael Thomas, Barcarri Rambo and the list goes on.
None of those players played well enough or even long enough (in Delmas case) to make a difference or actually earn a starting position. This past off-season, Adam Gase and the rest of the Dolphins front office, set a precedent that depth at all positions was their goal. They started off by addressing the safety position by signing Nate Allen.
Allen was highly respected coming out of college, but that is where it ended. Don’t get me wrong, he showed flashes of stellar play during his tenure in Philadelphia, which then lead to his richest contract signing with the Oakland Raiders two years ago. The Raiders, who allowed Allen to develop and show case his talent, but decided to move on and cut him this past off-season, which then lead to him signing a friendly contract with the Dolphins.
Allen biggest flaws is his hip movement. I am hoping he doesn’t dawn the 32 jersey, as Dolphin fans will get a flashback of Jason Allen. He’s got stone hips. Allen doesn’t allow his feet to get set properly to read the play. Watch the Indy, KC an Denver games from last year and you can see him getting lost in the play translation and is out of position. Ironically, those three games were his most productive, but when your Safety is providing those types of stats, it basically means you are losing.
The Dolphins knew this, which is why the signed T.J. McDonald. In 2014, T.J killed it! He had over 104 tackles and 2 Interceptions. The best stat, is he led his team in defensive snaps, meaning, he didn’t leave the field. His play downgraded in the past few season, based on injuries ,and of course, the ugly cloud hovering over his head, is the 8 game suspension based on his off-field incidents.
The suspension could potentially be reduced, according to league insiders, but the Dolphins have yet to make a petition to the NFL – why? That is something that Gase should address soon.
Back to the field, T.J has everything you want from a starting safety. His play against this run is violent. Just re-watch the Rams vs Dolphins this past year and you can see a safety that plays like a Mike linebacker. The knock on him is his zone coverage read. He plays well against man coverage and his shadowing, back peddling, and soft hands resolves any concern about him covering tight ends or slot wide receivers.
At USC, T.J played the Robber position. If you remember, this is the type of Safety that Mike Nolan, implemented. It’s basically allows the Free Safety to play the center field position and allows your Strong Safety to play inbox or shadow. Pairing T.J with Jones is like having Brock Marion and Sammy Knight re-united in the Dolphins backfield. It doesn’t get better than that.
Signing T.J will allow Jones to do what he does best and not worry about the over the top help. Gase and Matt Burke knew this, which is the reason why T.J will be wearing teal this year. The only thing that they have to do now, is work on getting the suspension reduced.