The Miami Dolphins welcome their veteran players to the team training facilities tomorrow, bringing the entire roster together after rookies reported last week. As the team begins its 2023 training camp, there is a lot of work to be done and several questions to be answered. While the top of the cornerback position is locked in, some of the questions the team needs to answer involve the position group.
We continue our look at the position groups on the Dolphins’ 90-man roster ahead of camp. As we have done with the quarterbacks, running backs, tight ends, wide receivers, fullbacks, offensive line, defensive line, and linebackers already, we now turn our focus to the cornerbacks.
How will Miami man a position with two clear starters, then some younger players and/or players returning from injury?
Who is on the 90-man roster?
Ethan Bonner (R) - NFI
Nik Needham - PUP
Cam Smith (R)
What should we expect in training camp?
If I am the Dolphins’ coaches this summer, Howard and Ramsey are doing just enough for them to feel ready for the season, then surrounding them in bubble wrap and keeping them on the sideline. Miami struggled with injuries to the defensive secondary last year, including Byron Jones who missed the entire year and was supposed to start opposite Howard, and it immediately undercut the defensive scheme. The Dolphins in 2022 were built to be a blitzing defense with the cornerbacks on a man-to-man island. When you are constantly rotating cornerbacks into the lineup and do not have your best players fully healthy, that does not work.
Now with Vic Fangio as the team’s new defensive coordinator, the team should not be as blitz happy and the cornerbacks should have help more often, but having two healthy Pro Bowl cornerbacks is going to be a big part of the gameplans, so keeping them healthy has to be a big part of the summer plans.
Behind Howard and Ramsey is where the question marks start and more playing time in the preseason could go a long way to finding answers. Needham would be the favorite to claim the third/nickel cornerback position, but he is still recovering from an Achilles tear he sustained in November. Not only is it only 10 months since the injury, but Achilles tears are hard on cornerbacks as they look to regain the explosion they need for the position and then psychologically trust the tendon to not tear again. Keeping him on the Physically Unable to Perform list for the start of training camp - and maybe even into the season - would make sense as he works on his rehab process.
That likely leaves the door open for Kohou, a 2022 undrafted free agent out of Texas A&M - Commerce, to continue to be a surprise player for Miami. As a rookie last year, Kohou was thrust into the lineup for 15 games last year, not something a team wants for an undrafted free agent, especially one from such a small school. Kohou not only entered the lineup, but he played well above expectations. He ultimately started 13 of the 15 games in which he appeared, recording 72 tackles, 10 passes defensed, a forced fumble, and an interception. He may be asked to continue into a key role this year.
The other end of the spectrum is Igbinoghene. A former first-round pick entering his fourth season, Igbinoghene has yet to establish himself as a key member of the Miami defense, appearing in just nine games last year despite all the injuries to the secondary. He is stil only 23-years-old, younger than rookies coming into the league, so there is time for him to develop, but Miami needs him to step up now.
Bethel, Crossen, and Ellis return to the Dolphins this year, while Thompson comes to Miami after spending time with the New Orleans Saints and in the XFL. They all probably need to make an impact on special teams to assure themselves of a roster spot. Crossen likely has the early lead, having played a little over one-third of the defensive snaps for the team last year, but any of them could fight their way into a roster spot.
Rookie Smith and Bonner have to adjust to the NFL game. Smith, a third-round pick and Miami’s first selection in the 2023 NFL Draft, should have a roster spot unless everything falls apart in camp. Bonner is currently on the Non-Football Injury list, but it was reportedly an illness and he should be cleared fairly quickly.
2023 53-man roster projection
Cam Smith (R)
Nik Needham - PUP
Six cornerbacks making the roster feels right. If Needham is cleared, he replaces Crossen in this projection. I know people will have issues with Igbinoghene still hanging around, but he really does not give Miami much in terms of salary cap relief with a release, and, again, he is only 23. I still believe he can develop and reach the potential that had him selected in the first round. If it does not happen this year, Miami walks away with no money owed.
The third cornerback spot goes to Kohou, though Smith could fight to claim it if he adjusts quickly.