Well, there are officially no more legitimate free safety options remaining on the free agency market. With O.J. Atogwe re-signing with the Rams yesterday and Ken Hamlin coming to terms with the Ravens last week, the powers that be are trusting Chris Clemons, or possibly Reshad Jones to hold down the starting free safety job.
I say possibly Reshad Jones because, as far as we know, he could still beat out Clemons, but for all intents and purposes it appears to be Clemons' job to lose. The coaching staff and front office have talked up Clemons ever sense OTA's opened, have praised the progress he has made from a mental standpoint, and point out how he has received more reps than anybody this spring.
The vote of confidence Clemons has got from the Dolphins though, seemed to come out of nowhere, starting at the draft. They could have stayed put at No. 12 and selected Texas' Earl Thomas, but they didn't. They could have traded up a few slots in round three in order to snag Georgia Tech's Morgan Burnett, or picked up Florida's Major Wright in the same round, but they passed on both.
Instead, Ireland and Parcells chose not to address the safety position until round five, when they drafted Reshad Jones. Yes, Jones will compete at free safety, but on paper he appears to be better suited as Yeremiah Bell's eventual successor at strong safety.
Then of course, there was Atogwe hitting free agency earlier this month. The Dolphins were rumored to be in the mix for his services, but really never made a strong push, despite the fact that he would have instantly provided stability at the position. But was that because of how much cash Atogwe was requesting, or was it because the Dolphins honestly think Clemons is the long-term solution at a position that plagued them a year ago?
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Because Clemons' recent approval from both the front office and coaching staff, really isn't consistent with how the team approached the start of free agency. Let's re-visit this March, when the Dolphins made a play for Antrel Rolle, but were significantly outbid by the Giants, and then they had Ryan Clark at the team facility, ready to ink a contract, before they apparently offended him, by probing into his past health issues.
If the Dolphins really thought Clemons was capable of becoming a starting caliber safety, why did they pursue two free agents to fill the void?
I know I'm being a little skeptical here, and maybe I should just trust the team's recent assertions that Clemons is progressing nicely, and believe in the second-year player. But pardon me for realizing you can never really trust anything this front office says, ala Ireland endorsing Gibril and the team's core of receivers, before releasing Gibril and trading for Brandon Marshall, and not trusting just anyone being this defense's last line of defense, when Wilson performed about as poorly as possible in 09'.
From an optimistic standpoint though, I guess we can only hope this coaching staff and front office saw something special out of Clemons during offseason workouts, which motivated the complete turnaround in personnel strategy. But then again, how can you really see anything special out of anyone, when they are basically playing two hand touch out there.
Nonetheless, plenty is riding on Chris Clemons' ability to emerge as a quality starting safety this season. No one is going to question the kid's talent, even though he came into the league a little raw. He has the speed and range to cover large portions of the field and stick with tight ends in man; it was just mental errors that prevented him from taking over full-time in 09'. So when Parcells publicly states Clemons has had "one of the best ratios of plays-to-mental errors on the team" this May/June, maybe it's time we buy into Clemons being yet another, young and promising player in the secondary.