The 2023 Miami Dolphins may have a problem that every other team wishes they had. Miami is headed into the season with too many talented players in the secondary, especially at cornerback where the headliners Xavien Howard and Jalen Ramsey are backed up by several players who could become key contributors this year. A year after struggling with injuries throughout the group, the Dolphins appear to be deeper at the position than at any other spot on the roster.
Cornerbacks coach and pass game specialist Sam Madison, himself a former Dolphins cornerback, spoke with the media late last week as the team concluded their minicamp and offseason training program. He was asked about several of the individual players in the cornerbacks group, starting with the newly acquired Ramsey. A six-time Pro Bowl selection, Ramsey was added to the Dolphins in an offseason trade and gives Miami a dynamic pairing with four-time Pro Bowl selection Howard.
“Just being present, it’s seemed like for him he always takes training camp, he always takes playing football very seriously. Just listening to the way he’s conversing with these guys, he’s into it,” Madison said of what he has seen from Ramsey since he arrived in Miami. “I didn’t really have much experience with him and understanding him and knowing him ahead of this. But these last few weeks, the last month or so, it’s been really fun being around him because that’s all he talks. He talks football and being able to have him out there watching different plays and situations and watching him communicate with the younger guys saying this is how this will happen or such and such. It’s just been fun. Phenomenal player in this league and we’re just looking to be able to build off of what he’s done in the past.”
Madison also spoke about the team’s second-round pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, the team’s first pick in the three-day selection process, Cam Smith. Smith played four years at South Carolina and now looks to create a role for himself with the Dolphins. Madison seemed impressed by the rookie, but also reminded everyone that there will still be highs and lows as Smith grows into the NFL. “He’s doing very well. But guess what, he’s a rookie, right? You know, we can sit here and we can look around the league since football’s been in inception, you know, they’re going to have their ups and downs,” the coach explained. “But he’s learning and he’s a fast learner. Well, he still has a long way to go, but he’s getting better at each and every last one of those things that we’re throwing at him. We’re going to keep challenging him, we’re going to keep putting him in positions and see exactly what we can get out of him. He’s done some great things in college and now he has to take that leap and the next step into the pros. He’s willing and he’s able. He’s trying to focus and learn all the little small details and I think he’ll do pretty well. But you know, he’s a rookie and there’s going to be some growing pains, but we’re trying to work those kinks out when we get to training camp.”
Madison was asked about two other cornerbacks on the roster, 2022 undrafted free agent Kader Kohou and 2020 first-round pick Noah Igbingohene. Kohou was a surprise find last year, building off a strong training camp to playing 18 snaps in Week 1 to being a started by Week 3 and throughout the rest of the season. Asked if Kohou is seen as a starter on this year’s defense or if he is contending for a role, Madison replied, “Everybody’s a starter. You talk about in this league, anything can happen at any given time and that’s what I try to portray to these guys. He’s done some really great things for us last year. He played in the nickel, he played at the dime, he played at cornerback position. [New Dolphins defensive coordinator] Vic [Fangio] is trying to find the best people to put on the football field and he’s definitely in the mix just like a lot of these guys are.”
He continued, adding, “Now it just becomes who’s the most consistent, who’s the most productive, and who’s going to be one of those guys that we can depend on no matter what position that we put him in? He’s working at it. He’s still a rookie until he gets past those three games, but he’s going into his second year so he understands the grueling part that it’s going to take throughout the course of the year. He came back, his body looks good. He’s taken care of some things off the field and we’re just going to be able to see exactly how it all plays out. But it’s fun to be able to see these guys grow, mature, and understand what this league is all about. They come in wide-eyed and bushy-tailed, and then you get thrown in there with some with some grown men, and then now you have to step up. But he did it and he’s ready to go. He’s open to whatever challenge Vic throws at him and he’s open to competition because he never backs down.”
Igbinoghene has struggled since being the third of three first-round picks Miami made in 2020. He played in 16 games with two starts as a rookie, but has appeared in just 16 games the last two seasons. While he is entering his fourth season in the league, he is also only 23 years old still and could continue to develop. “His mental is there,” the four-time Pro Bowl selection turned coach answered. “Just being able to see him on the first day for his meetings and him in there learning the defense and then being able to apply the things on the football field, it’s there. The physical is there. He’s always in shape. He’s always in top-tier conditioning. Now he just has to get in that playbook. We’ve thrown him in there and different situations, he understands it.”
Madison continued, “Now it’s just going out there and doing my job plus and Noah, he’s gaining the confidence of his teammates. No matter what we say in this building, the most important part is getting your teammates’ trust and confidence to be able to go out there and play with him and he’s done that. I think he’s grown a lot. It’s a totally new system for him. He’s learning a lot just like a lot of these guys. It’s going to be up to him to understand the things that Vic is going to be throwing at him and just going out there and being able to apply it. We know this game is fast, it’s quick. So being able to understand, process quickly, and going out there and executing is going to be the most important part for Noah just because he hasn’t had many reps. Everything is fresh, everything is new. Everybody’s getting a fresh new start. It’s a really good defense. I ran something similar. You have the opportunity to make a lot of plays and now you’ve got to become a playmaker.”
Madison was then asked to compare the starting cornerback duo of Howard and Ramsey to the duo Miami had when Madison was playing with three-time Pro Bowl selection Patrick Surtain. “I mean, it is what it is, you know what I’m saying? You can go around the league, past, present, future. You’ve always had very good tandems at cornerback. But, when it comes down to it, they’ve got to go out there and they have to play, just like we did. We demanded a lot from each other. When we played we respected one another. We still respect one another. I just talked to him two days ago. So they just have to build that camaraderie. They have to build that fire amongst one another. They have to go out there and they have to compete and that’s what we did on a consistent basis.”
He added, “They really have a great opportunity to do some really good things and I’m just happy to be a part of it and watch these guys do it. The energy is there. Just watching these two guys communicate from Day 1. When they got here they’ve been hanging out together and that’s what it really takes and what it boils down to. Pat and I, we were hanging out together off the field and we were always communicating football. So that is what it’s going to take and they seem like they’re on the right path. They can be whatever they want to be, but it’s going to take work. It’s going to take hard work. It’s going to take dedication and they’ve got to go out there and perform the best way they know how. Then go out there and impose their will each and every week. There can’t be any letdowns. There’s a lot of people looking for big things from them and they know that. Just like any of these other players, even if neither one of those guys is on the field, they’re expected to go out there and be just like them. Because we always say the next man up. So, we’ll see what happens.”