2014 Positional Breakdown: Defensive Backs

Posted Jan 24, 2014

Miami’s back end players delivered in all facets.

It’s not often that you can replace both of your starting cornerbacks from the previous year and create the type of dramatic turnaround that the Miami Dolphins did, but that’s precisely what happened in 2013. The secondary combined for 18 interceptions, nearly doubling the total from the year before.

Not only was this group of defensive backs more opportunistic in terms of creating turnovers, but their ability to lock down opposing receivers in coverage, especially in the red zone, made teams one dimensional at times. They also provided stellar run support, led by starting safeties Reshad Jones and Chris Clemons, and allowed the linebackers to blitz more and freelance in certain situations due to their abilities to roam from sideline to sideline.

The ultimate testament to the improvements made by the secondary was cornerback Brent Grimes’ selection to the Pro Bowl, joining Sam Madison and Patrick Surtain as just the third cornerback to make the trip to Hawaii. Dimitri Patterson might have accompanied him or at least garnered a decent share of votes had he not been hampered by a groin injury that eventually landed him on Injured Reserve down the stretch. But his injury also opened the door for Nolan Carroll to have his best season and for Jimmy Wilson and late addition Michael Thomas prove their worth.


• Brent Grimes (5-10, 183) — Coming off of a devastating Achilles injury in Atlanta that cost him the entire 2012 season, Grimes was out to prove he was fully recovered as a free agent with the Dolphins and he did so in memorable fashion with a team-high four interceptions. By season’s end he was arguably the best cornerback in the AFC and did not allow a touchdown catch by an opposing receiver in all 16 games, earning his second Pro Bowl berth with some eye-popping athletic plays. He is a top candidate for the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year.

• Nolan Carroll (6-1, 205) — Carroll was asked to step up his play immediately after Patterson’s groin injury suffered in the season opener kept him out for the next five weeks and he delivered his best season as a Miami Dolphin in 12 starts. The fifth-round pick out of Maryland back in 2010 snagged a career-high three interceptions and registered 47 tackles (43 solo) while providing stability on the opposite side of Grimes.

• Reshad Jones (6-1, 210) — Fresh off a new contract and Pro Bowl-caliber season in 2012, Jones maintained his reputation as a hard-hitting safety and a nightmare for running backs reaching that second and third level of the defense. He led the team in solo tackles with 84, was second overall behind linebacker Philip Wheeler with 107 and added 1.5 sacks and one interception that he returned 25 yards for a touchdown against the Baltimore Ravens.

• Chris Clemons (6-1, 214) — Clemons is the quarterback of the secondary and is responsible for getting everyone lined up properly while calling out the coverage adjustments. He finished with 92 tackles (62 solo) and an interception, but perhaps his biggest contribution was making sure Michael Thomas was in the right spot and the proper coverage in the second half against the New England Patriots. That’s when the former practice squad player from San Francisco was thrust into action at the most critical time of the game.

• Dimitri Patterson (5-10, 200) — A strong finish to the 2012 season and an even stronger training camp convinced Miami’s coaching staff to elevate Patterson to the starting spot and release incumbent Richard Marshall, and his two interceptions in the season-opening win at Cleveland validated that move. He missed the next four games, then picked up where he left off with two more interceptions in a three-game stretch in late October, but could not fully overcome the groin injury and was placed on Injured Reserve for the final three games of the season.

• Jimmy Wilson (5-11, 205) — Wilson was perhaps the most versatile of Miami’s defensive backs, as he was asked to play mostly in the slot as the nickel corner but also lined up on the boundary and at safety and never missed a beat. He sealed the home-opening win over the Atlanta Falcons with a late interception of a Matt Ryan pass and finished eighth on the team in tackles with 39 (38 solo) and one forced fumble.

Will Davis (5-11, 186) — One of two cornerbacks selected early in the 2013 NFL Draft, Davis was a star in training camp and the preseason but became a victim of a deep and talented group of cornerbacks ahead of him and a nagging foot injury that slowed down his development. He appeared in five games for Miami and notched eight tackles, all solo, and held his own in the waning moments of the win over New England in Week 15.

Jamar Taylor (5-10, 192) — Taylor was the first cornerback taken by the Dolphins in the second round of the 2013 NFL Draft, but a sports hernia suffered during OTAs and minicamps hampered him the entire season. He made his NFL debut at the New Orleans Saints on Monday Night Football, which is not the easiest place to play, but the lights weren’t too bright for him and he finished the season with three solo tackles in nine games.

• Michael Thomas (5-11, 196) — By far the feel good story of the season, Thomas went from having never played in an NFL team while occupying a spot on the San Francisco 49ers’ practice squad to being the hero of Miami’s 24-20 upset of the Patriots at Sun Life Stadium with a game-ending interception of future Hall-of-Fame quarterback Tom Brady in the end zone. Thomas’ breakup of a Brady pass intended for Danny Amendola in the right corner of the end zone three plays earlier was even more impressive and he quickly became a national story for his heroics.

Don Jones (5-11, 191) — Jones made his impact on special teams and was one of two rookies on the Dolphins to be selected to the Pro Football Writers Association’s All-Rookie team for the AFC. The seventh-round pick out of Arkansas State turned the tide of the game against Atlanta in the second half with his team trailing by a 20-13 score when he jarred the ball loose from Falcons punt returner Harry Douglas after a 53-yard punt by Brandon Fields. Long Snapper John Denney recovered the fumble at the Atlanta 19 and Miami tied the game three plays later on an 18-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Ryan Tannehill to Brian Hartline.

Safeties D.J. Campbell and Jordan Kovacs both managed to get off the practice squad and contribute on special teams at different points during the season, with Kovacs even getting on the field in the secondary. Cornerback Justin Rogers joined the team late for depth and all three should provide good competition in the upcoming training camp.

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