So far this offseason, we have covered the possible training camp battles on the defensive line and at the wide receiver position. In this post, we will look at a less evident, but possibly compelling training camp battle at the safety position. Third year safety Reshad Jones had a breakout season in 2012, compiling 94 tackles, 4 interceptions, 2 forced fumbles, 9 passes defensed, and one sack. He will look to improve upon those numbers in 2013. He has said this offseason that he wants to become a premier safety and is on his way to achieving that goal. Meanwhile, his fellow safety Chris Clemons quietly had a good season. He compiled 98 tackles, 2 interceptions (both off Mark Sanchez), and 4 passes defensed. It would seem that Miami was fairly set at the safety position.
However Clemons was allowed to enter free agency, where he ultimately came back to the Dolphins, but only on a one year deal. That essentially is a ‘prove-it' deal for Clemons. Miami showed some faith in Clemons by not addressing the safety position until their last pick in the draft. However, there are some up-and-comers at the position who could give Clemons a run for his money... literally.
Jimmy Wilson has been a decent pickup for the Dolphins since he was drafted in the seventh round of the 2010 draft. He has just about every position in the secondary, but it seems he is a better fit at safety than at cornerback. Wilson has good instincts for the position and has shown good range for a free safety. He has experience at nickel corner as well so dropping him into man coverage from the safety position shouldn't be more than he can handle. Wilson was the first team nickel corner in OTAs and minicamp, but second round rookie Jamar Taylor wasn't able to practice due to a hernia surgery. Taylor should be ready to go for training camp and my guess is that he will get nickel reps as well as starting reps with the first team. That will move Wilson back to safety where his natural playmaking ability could be enough to take the job from Clemons.
Kelcie McCray is another interesting prospect for the safety position. McCray was an undrafted free agent in 2012 and injured his foot in training camp last year. Typically, undrafted rookies who get injured like that are waived, unless they show enough talent to warrant keeping. McCray showed the staff enough that he was placed on injured reserve instead of being released. In OTAs and minicamp, McCray showed why the staff kept him, always making plays on the ball with interceptions or deflections. He showed flashes of playmaking ability that could not only earn him a roster spot, but put him into the starting discussions as well.
Don Jones was the last pick in the 2013 draft for the Miami Dolphins. He is an intriguing prospect with upside. Jones started out this offseason as a nickel corner, a position the staff wanted him to play after drafting him. After a few sessions, it appeared that Jones was better fit as a safety and the staff moved him back there. He didn't make too much noise during those sessions, but the team felt he was worthy of a draft pick. They must think he has enough talent to challenge for playing time.
I foresee this battle coming down to whether Chris Clemons can hold down the spot or not. The other players I mentioned have talent and could steal the job away from Clemons. But its going to take a big time effort by those guys to earn and keep the starting spot. Clemons is a solid safety. He doesn't make too many flashy plays, but doesn't make too many mistakes either. That's fine as long as Jones dominates from the other spot. But the coaches want to create more turnovers and if Clemons cannot become that type of safety, I believe the team will be looking for a new safety early in the 2014 draft, unless one of the current guys can step up. It will be very interesting to watch (read about) how the safeties play this training camp and preseason. There may be a top notch safety already on the team just waiting to be discovered this year.