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Dolphins quest for versatility has Bobby McCain playing safety

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Dolphins have a top-tier slot cornerback in Bobby McCain. They recognized that last year, signing him to a contract extension that moved him to the top of the position group. Signed through 2022, McCain appeared to be set as the team’s nickel cornerback, asked to cover the slot receiver, a player who is becoming more and more important to offensive success.

Then, the Dolphins were forced to move McCain outside and play him opposite Xavien Howard. It worked, but it was not what the team had envisioned when they signed him to the four-year, $27 million extension.

Now, with a new coaching staff in place, the Dolphins seem to be looking at McCain as another piece they can move around and create confusion for opposing offenses.

McCain, speaking of the differences in this new defense, told the media on Wednesday, “Just schematically, with me playing everywhere such as safety, cornerback – playing it all – being able to understand the concepts, being able to understand your weaknesses and the strengths of the defense. That’s what each of these days are for and that’s what we’re doing.”

At a position that seems to be fairly deep for the Dolphins, with Minkah Fitzpatrick, Reshad Jones, and T.J. McDonald all starting caliber players, meet the Dolphins newest safety, Bobby McCain.

“No. At the end of the day, it’s just going out and doing what I have to do for the team, going out and making sure that we get a W,” McCain said if all the movement has been a curveball for him. “If I have to play kicker and holder, I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do.

“You could put me anywhere and I’ll thrive in the position. I just want to play whatever is the best fit for this team.”

Moving McCain to safety could allow the team to use Fitzpatrick in more of a cornerback or coverage linebacker role, with McDonald and Jones playing more up in the box and supporting the run defense. It could also allow the team to disguise their coverage, with multiple players on the field able to cover like a cornerback, drop back to play safety, or rush the passer on a blitz. Dolphins head coach Brian Flores has repeatedly discussed the need for versatility among his players, and it appears McCain could be a major piece of that.

“Being able to just see the entire formation, being able to see the entire field,” McCain said of what he likes about having more space to operate rather than just being stuck covering in the middle of the field. “You can see matchups. Just being able to see it all, being able to see the play happen, the concepts and being able to read the quarterback at the end of the day, and break off the ball.”

As a safety, McCain would be asked to do more than concentrate on just the slot receiver. “Sometimes, yeah,” he replied when asked if he is moving players into the right alignment and responsibility in the team’s Organized Team Activities (OTAs). “Sometimes you have to do that. You have to be a master communicator and understand that you see the full field. Some guys may not see ‘it’s (an) empty (formation), I’ve got to go this guy.’ Some guys may not see it’s gun near. Whatever the case may be, you have to get guys in the right position.”

McCain could also be asked to cover a wider array of players, rather than the typical small, shifty slot receiver, if he is lined up at safety. Asked for the differences in the players against whom he could be matched, McCain explained, “At free safety, you can matchup on receivers, you can matchup on running backs, you can matchup on tight ends. You’ve got to be able to cover them all and do them all. At the end of the day, you’ve got to get the job done. Especially in the middle of the field, like you said, there’s a lot of traffic. There’s a lot of things going on that you have to regulate and communicate and get guys lined up and get us in the right position.”

Could the Dolphins just be trying out McCain at safety if it becomes a depth issue during the year? Is this a temporary thing during OTAs? It sounds like it could be a bigger part of the team’s plans for this season. “Every day is a tryout,” McCain said. “Every day we come out here, it’s an opportunity for you to prove yourself. Right now, that’s where I’m playing and that’s what I’m doing.”

The Dolphins want versatility. They want to be able to disguise their defenses. They want to be able to change plays, and even schemes, without changing the players on the field. Earlier today, we took a look at Minkah Fitzpatrick and Pro Football Focus recommending the Dolphins use him as a slot cornerback, which would move him into McCain’s position. It could make sense if the Dolphins believe they have a way to keep McCain’s talent on the field.

And now they have a new safety, Bobby McCain.