There are many unkowns surrounding the Dolphins' defense that are sure to make or break Mike Nolan's efforts at turning around a unit that finished 22nd in the league, in the same way he did in Denver a year ago. Among them are Randy Starks' transition to nose tackle, how the outside linebackers shape up, and if Chris Clemons can develop into a quality starting free safety.
How good the secondary can be, likely falls on the shoulders of Clemons. Vontae Davis and Sean Smith are expected to make significant strides in year two, and the strong safety spot is already established with veteran Yeremiah Bell.
If Clemons can live up to the expectations that have come with the coaching staff and front office talking him up all offseason, then the pass defense, which was arguably the Achilles heel of the entire team in 09', will be in substantially better shape then it was last season.
Yeremiah Bell: One of the league's most reliable tacklers is obviously safe on the roster and safe as the starter at strong safety. He's fresh off his first ever Pro Bowl appearance, and should be able to maintain that high level of play for at least one or two more years.
For future sake, hopefully Reshad Jones gives the coaching staff a reason to believe he can be Bell's eventual successor at the position, if free safety doesn't work out for him, that is.
Chris Clemons: When Parcells and Ireland failed to woo in the services of Antrel Rolle and Ryan Clark in free agency, and chose not to invest a high-round draft choice in a free safety, Chris Clemons instantly became a lock to make the roster. Perhaps even more surprising, has been the team's constant praise of Clemons' offseason work.
Everyone knew he had the physical tools to become a quality safety in this league, but mental mishaps reportedly prevented him from earning the starting job, even though Gibril Wilson was in the midst of a nightmare campaign. Parcells gave the fans a reason to believe those mental mishaps are a thing of the past though, when he confirmed that Clemons had one of the better ratios of snaps to mental errors on the team during offseason workouts.
That trend needs to contine when the pads come on and things speed up a bit, and more and more information is thrown at him. If his mental progress starts to digress, expect Reshad Jones to enter the picture, and a heated competition to unfold.
Tyrone Culver: To many people's surprise, Culver hasn't been given the opportunity to compete for the starting free safety job. Instead, he has been getting the backup strong safety reps. Still though, he's likely a lock to make the final 53-man roster because the coaching staff knows what they are getting with him. Which is a consistent, solid back-up, with value on passing situations.
Reshad Jones: The Dolphins traded up to the last pick of the fifth round in order to snag the Georgia product, which appeared to be their last ditch effort to address the safety position. On paper though, Jones has the makings of a strong safety, but will be given the opportunity to compete with Clemons, anyway.
He didn't impress in OTA's and minicamp, but being the hard-hitting safety that he is, he could shine when contact is allowed. If he continues to underwhelm however, he will become more and more vulnerable to undrafted rookie Jonathan Amaya, who, contrary to Jones, had a noteworthy spring.
Jonathan Amaya: Even though he reportedly flashed potential as a playmaker during OTA's, picking off several passes, that will quickly become an after thought when training camp rolls around. How many times have we seen someone have an impressive offseason, but do next to nothing in camp? If he can continue to make plays though, he will be given the opportunity to unseat Jones. If not, it's likely the practice squad for Amaya.
Nate Ness: He has been seen working as a corner during offseason workouts, which would give him some much needed versatility. Realistically though, that was probably purely experimental, in hopes of getting anything out of Ness that they can.
Chris Clemons vs. Reshad Jones: For the moment, it appears that this is Clemons' job to lose. But if he struggles early on, expect Jones to get more and more reps. One can only hope that is not the case though, because the potential that comes with Clemons matching his physical abilities with superb mental play projects beyond what Jones can likely bring to the position. If both struggle, don't rule out the possibility of Tyrone Culver being thrown back into the mix.
FS Depth Chart
1. Chris Clemons
2. Reshad Jones
SS Depth Chart
1. Yeremiah Bell
2. Tyrone Culver
Countdown to Camp: 24 days