Miami Dolphins Training Camp Primer: Cornerbacks to be under microscope

We focused on the linebackers yesterday.  Today, we will keep our attention on the defensive side of the ball and talk a little about Miami's cornerbacks.

It's clear that the Dolphins wanted to address their secondary this past offseason.  They signed Gibril Wilson to compliment the re-signing of Yeremiah Bell - creating a hard-hitting safety tandem.  They also spent a lot of resources on upgrading the team's cornerbacks.  And there's no doubt that the cornerback position will be one of the most closely watched positions once camp begins in just a matter of days.

THE QUICK BREAKDOWN

Virtual locks to make the roster: Will Allen, Vontae Davis, Sean Smith
On the bubble: Eric Green, Jason Allen, Nathan Jones
Long shots: Joey Thomas, Will Billingsley

THE QUESTIONS

Obviously, the main question with this unit will be how quickly the two rookie corners - Davis and Smith - can develop.  If one can earn a starting spot, many fans would feel more comfortable with this unit than they otherwise might.  Both Davis and Smith possess tremendous talent - albeit different talents.  Davis is more of a press corner and he loves to lay the wood.  Smith, meanwhile, is more of a play-making cover corner.  He has good hands and absolutely ridiculous size (6'3 1/2) for a corner.  But will either of the two earn the starting gig opposite of incumbent starter Will Allen?

But there are other questions that don't involve the two rookies.  Will free agent acquisition Eric Green improve from his very lackluster offseason?  You'll remember that one of the themes of OTAs and minicamp was Green's impression of burnt toast - getting beat left and right for big plays.  Will Jason Allen finally develop into a servicable NFL player?  He has all the physical tools you need - but has continually disappointed.

THE NUMBERS GAME

There's a thought that the Dolphins could potentially keep six cornerbacks this season.  But last season, the Dolphins kept five cornerbacks on the 53-man roster to begin the season.  And, in my opinion, I think that the Dolphins would prefer to keep just five corners rather than six - keeping a roste spot open for another player at another position.  But this decision could come down to how the two backup safeties, Tyrone Culver and Chris Clemons, perform in camp.  If the coaching staff feels comfortable enough with potentially using Culver or Clemons as a cover corner if necessary, the Dolphins could look to again keep only five corners.

WHERE DOES THAT LEAVE US?

There's more to the cornerback competition than just who makes the team.  The depth chart is far from set.  Really, the only player who is locked into his spot is Will Allen.  But other than that, the cornerback situation is very fluid and will likely change from practice to practice until things get settled down - making for what should be an entertaining camp for this unit.

Vontae Davis, Sean Smith, and Eric Green will all likely get long looks as a potential starter opposite of Allen.  Entering camp, some might say that Green has the leg up thanks to his experience in the league.  But just being "experienced" won't be enough for Green if he continues to struggle.  He's going to have two very talented rookies breathing down his neck all camp long.

Based on the practices that were open to the media, it seems like it was Smith standing out as the top rookie despite being drafted 30 picks after Davis.  But that was also without pads and without real hitting.  Davis excels as a physical corner and he loves to lay the wood.  He's also the better player in run support - based on their college performances - which will certainly be beneficial to Vontae in his bid to win the starting job.

Meanwhile, it's looking like Jason Allen and Nate Jones will be in a battle to make the team.  Of course, both could make it if the Dolphins keep six corners or if they give up on Eric Green despite signing him just a few months ago.  But I still believe that it's likely that the coaches will only keep five corners - and I expect Green to be one of them.  That means Allen and Jones will both have to prove they belong.  Jones probably has the upper hand because he was the team's nickel back while Allen ended the year recovering from a broken hand.  But Allen is a good special teams contributor - he led the team in solo special teams tackles last year with 14 - and he has a much more expensive contract.  In fact, Jones is a free agent following the '09 season, meaning it could be even easier to cut ties with Jones.

THE KEY BATTLE

The key battle, like I said above, will be between Vontae Davis, Sean Smith, and Eric Green for both the starting job and the job of nickel back.  We know that fans will all be pulling for the two rookies to land at #2 and #3 on the depth chart, shoving Green down to fourth.  But you have to wonder if the coaches would be comfortable with having rookies fill the role of both starting corner and nickel back.  What I guess I'm saying is that I get the feeling Green will, at the very least, get some playing time early in the season as the team's nickel - assuming he doesn't continue to get beat every day once camp begins - while the two rookies get more comfortable. 

Of course, the optimist in me is praying for both Smith and Davis to excel in camp and win those two jobs behind Will Allen.  But how likely is it for two rookie corners to receive extensive playing time from day one?

THE PREDICTION

We know Will Allen, Vontae Davis, and Sean Smith will all be on the team.  I also expect Eric Green to stick.  If the Dolphins do keep six corners, then this is a fairly easy prediction - Jason Allen and Nate Jones both make the team.  But if they don't - and I suspect they won't - then I think Jason Allen will just barely make the cut.  But there's a very real chance that the '09 season is his final one in Miami.

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