On a periodic basis between now and the 2006 NFL Draft, I
will take an in-depth look at the Dolphins. This week: Defensive Backs.
CurrentState: The recent release of the great Sam Madison rips a
gaping hole in the cornerback corps, a team strength just one year ago. Together
with the trade of Patrick Surtain and the release of Reggie Howard, the
Dolphins now have a dire need to identify and/or acquire two new CB starters for the first time since the Jimmy Johnson era.
Of the players currently on the roster, Travis Daniels and Will Poole are
the most promising prospects though both men have questions to overcome. Poole missed all of the 2005 season with a severe knee injury
he sustained in a May minicamp. How will he recover in his first year back?
Recall that Poole posted a solid rookie
campaign at the nickel back position in 2004, logging 37 tackles and a
sackÖexcellent numbers for a rookie and part time player. As for Daniels, he
saw much more action than expected due to Pooleís
injury. Daniels did some positive things (62 tackles, 1 pick, 13 passes
defensed) and generally improved as the season wore on, especially in covering
the deep ball. The question on Daniels is one of upside. Does he have the
ability to become a dominant starting corner?
Reserves Kiwaukee Thomas and Eddie Jackson were free agent pick-ups that
received regular playing time on defense. Shirdonya Mitchell spent the entire
season on injured reserve; his game is highly thought of by the coaching staff.
Art Thomas was recently added to the roster.
Strengths: Young prospects (Poole, Daniels) with probable
Weaknesses: No proven starting caliber players.
Offseason Priority: Very High. Aside from quarterback, this is the teamís most pressing need. If
the Dolphins keep their first round pick (16th overall selection),
it is very possible that they will use it to select a cornerback. Top prospects
include Virginia Techís Jimmy Williams, OhioStateís Ashton Youboty, Clemsonís Tye
Hill, and FloridaStateís Antonio
Cromartie. Free agency is a solid but expensive possibility the team will
surely explore. Top free agents include Nate Clements, Charles Woodson, and Ty
Law. The Bills placed a franchise tag on Clements while the Raiders declined to
do the same to Woodson. Law (Jets) will be an unrestricted free agent.
CurrentState: The Dolphins possess an adequate group of safeties
with free agent Lance Schulters being the pleasant surprise in the secondary
this past season. Schulters was signed late in July, almost as an afterthought.
He ended up starting all 16 games at free safety, logging 76 tackles, two
sacks, four interceptions, and six passes defensed. His pick of a Jake Delhomme
pass was the difference in the upset win over the Panthers. Schulters was the
teamís outstanding defensive back last season. Travares Tillman, a high profile
early free agent signing, stepped in as the starter at strong safety for 10
games after the now released Tebucky Jones was lost for the season. Tillman was
fairly productive, with 54 tackles, three interceptions and five passes
Yeremiah Bell was finally able to enjoy an injury free season and, as
expected, his game progressed quite a bit as a result of the playing time and
experience he received. His most important play of the season was his sack of San Diegoís Drew Brees
with less than three minutes to play and the Dolphins holding a 20-14 lead. Brees
fumbled the ball on the play, leading to a Dolphin field goal and the decisive
points in the game. Bell
is a player the Dolphins should continue to invest in; heís going to get
Reserve Norman LeJeune was signed late in the season not long after Jones
went down. Jack Hunt and the newly signed Siddeeq Shabazz round out the group.
Strengths: Free Safety (Schulters and Bell).
Weaknesses: Strong Safety and an overall lack of quality depth.
Offseason Priority: Medium to High. The Dolphins would benefit greatly from acquiring a
dominant, hard hitting strong safety in the mold of Rodney Harrison. Alas,
players like this are tough to come by. Texas SS Michael Huff would sure look
good in a Dolphin uniform, though he is predicted to be gone by the time the
Dolphins go on the clock. Could free agent SS Adam Archuleta (Rams) be on the