How big a step Vontae Davis and Sean Smith take in year two, will be instrumental in determining how improved the Dolphins' 24th overall pass defense can be. In what is becoming a pass first league, that ranking is significantly too low for a team with playoff aspirations
Now, a lot of that had to do with Will Allen going down, starting two rookies, and having virtually no help over the top, with Gibril Wilson seemingly looking lost back there. For defenses to succeed nowadays, especially aggressive ones, you need at least one lockdown corner, and at least another solid one on the other side.
The Dolphins project to have three solid corners, with Will Allen returning from an ACL tear. But can any of the three emerge as one of the league's elite lockdown cover guys? Well, that's what it might take for this defense to become a top ten unit when Tom Brady (twice), Brett Farve, Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger (unless he is actually given a six game suspension), Carson Palmer, Joe Flacco, and Jay Cutler await.
Sean Smith: It may surprise many, but I actually think Sean has the most potential to be a lockdown corner. No, he didn't pick off a pass last season, and looked somewhat timid at times, but he was thrown at nine less times than Vontae, despite seeing 205 more snaps.
His long arms enable him to get his hands on receivers first in press coverage and a little work in the weight room could make him dominate in those situations. He has the size to go up with the big-athletic receivers, and the speed to run stride for stride with most. Let's not forget that he started over Vontae at the beginning of the season, when Will Allen was healthy, either.
And I have said before that I thought the zero interceptions was a fluke. He showed promising ball skills last preseason, when he picked off two passes, including the highlight one-hand snag. Albeit the preseason doesn't mean anything, but I would be shocked if we didn't see some of those plays when things get real this year.
Vontae Davis: I may feel that Smith has slightly more potential, but Vontae played harder and with more passion last season. He may have gotten burnt a few more times than he would have liked, but most of those plays happened because he was being a little too aggressive.
He got caught looking in the backfield on occasion, and often committed too much to the receiver's initial move. If he can refine some of those mistakes, he has all the tools to be a fine corner, maybe even this defense's lockdown guy. Physicality and solid ball skills highlighted his rookie season, and unlike Smith, he actually picked off four passes.
He does a fantastic job coming up in run support, and will probably always be a better open-field tackler than his counterpart.
Will Allen: Allen is a far better corner than most give him credit for. And he was having a pretty remarkable season before the knee injury. According to Pro Football Focus, Allen only allowed 37.9% of the passes thrown his way to be completed. Incredibly, that was second only to Darrelle Revis in the entire league.
With that being said, should we take his "I'm starting" prediction seriously? You would think if he returns to 100% you would have to be throw him into a competition with the young guys. But that's just it. Him returning to 100% by the beginning of camp could be a long shot.
He was reportedly limited for the duration of offseason workouts, and when you combine the fact that he's now 31 with him having such a serious knee injury, it's possible that he will never be the same again.
Jason Allen: Has the former first-round pick's time finally come? He's underachieved for four years now as a safety, and then as a corner, and it's becoming obvious now that he will never live up to where he was taken in the draft.
What he does bring to the table though, is solid special teams play. Last season he notched 15 special teams tackles, which was good enough for second on the team. In 2008 he tallied 16 special teams tackles, which was tied with Patrick Cobbs for first.
So while fans may not have a favorable opinion of Allen, he certainly still has value to this football team, and probably isn't going anywhere.
Nolan Carroll: This year's fifth round pick isn't going to be handed anything. He's going to have to earn that roster spot. Even though, he would probably have to struggle pretty heavily to get the boot, considering the Dolphins essentially traded Ted Ginn for his services.
Will Billingsley: Failed to make the team last camp, and was designated to the practice squad. He has some raw ability, but it would probably take the Dolphins keeping six corners for him to make the squad. Something that I can't envision happening.
Evan Oglesby: Was signed late last season and actually saw limited action in the Jacksonville game. He had some game experience with the Ravens and Cowboys in the first four years of his career, and accumulated 35 tackles and defensed two passes in that span. In the event that Carroll performs dreadfully, the door would open for Oglesby.
A.J. Wallace: The undrafted rookie out of Penn State has litte chance of joining his former teammate Jared Odrick on the Dolphins' roster.
Ross Weaver: The undrafted rookie out of Michigan State faces the same near impossible task that Wallace does, as both were likely just brought in to be camp bodies.
Vontae Davis vs. Sean Smith vs. Will Allen: Even though he is still rehabbing that knee, I fully expect Allen to push the two young corners for all their worth. If he isn't ready to fully participate at the start of camp though, he severely hurts his chances, becuase every rep is vital if he is going to convince the coaching staff they can throw in a 31-year old that will halt the progress of one of the sophomores.
There may be a bit of a competition between Sean Smith and Vontae Davis too. Which one will man the responsibility of taking on the opposing team's number one receiver? My guess is, it will depend on which team they are facing.
For example, if Miami is facing the Texans and Andre Johnson, Smith projects to match up better, but if they are playing the Panthers and Steve Smith though, Davis would match up better against the smaller and faster threat.
Considering, the majority of elite receivers in this league are big and athletic, I expect Smith to get the nod, even though both will likely rotate throughout the game.
1. Sean Smith
2. Vontae Davis
3. Will Allen
4. Nolan Carroll
5. Jason Allen
Countdown to Camp: 22 Days