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Marshall Grabs Hold Of Starting Job

Posted Aug 27, 2012

There has been a changing of the guard at cornerback for the Miami Dolphins as sixth-year veteran free agent Richard Marshall cemented his spot opposite Sean Smith in the secondary.

Marshall’s consistent effort and his ability to quickly grasp the nuances of defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle’s system have been hard to ignore. His progress on those fronts enabled General Manager Jeff Ireland and Head Coach Joe Philbin to confidently pull the trigger on a trade yesterday that sent cornerback Vontae Davis to the Indianapolis Colts in exchange for two undisclosed draft choices.

“Richard’s one of the most competitive guys I’ve been around,” Coyle said. “From the day that he came in, he’s got a tremendous focus, he’s got an intensity, he battles each and every play and takes tremendous pride in his one-on-one ability to win the down each and every down.”

Those attributes were what made Marshall attractive enough to the Carolina Panthers back in 2006 coming out of Fresno State to convince them to choose him in the second round of the NFL Draft. In his second season in Carolina, Marshall broke out to the tune of 89 tackles (79 solo), three interceptions, two fumble recoveries and one quarterback sack. He returned one interceptions for a touchdown and continued his rise to prominence over the next three seasons in Carolina.

Marshall intercepted four passes in 2009 and three again in 2010 while putting together back-to-back seasons of 88 tackles, but when the Panthers made a change at head coach from John Fox to Ron Rivera he found himself on the outside looking in. The Arizona Cardinals signed him last offseason and converted him to free safety, where all he did was put up similar numbers (78 tackles, three interceptions and 11 passes defensed). Coyle and Philbin saw in Marshall a versatile defensive back with enough veteran experience to bring some leadership and energy to the defensive backfield.

“There’s not a snap that he’s out here where he’s not giving you everything he’s got and fighting and scratching to win,” Coyle said. “That’s probably the most impressive thing, along with his speed and quickness. He’s got exceptional quickness, short-area quickness to be able to cover, start and stop, change direction. Those things have really shown up in camp.”

After one week of training camp, Coyle began giving Marshall more snaps with the first-team defense in the base 4-3 alignment, shifting him to the slot in nickel packages. Third-year cornerback Nolan Carroll followed Marshall’s lead and showed enough as camp and preseason progressed to convince Coyle and Philbin that he could play the boundary in nickel situations, which is where Davis was playing.

But it’s the combination of Marshall’s physical tools, mental approach and size (5-foot-11, 198 pounds) that have stood out to the Dolphins’ coaching staff and front office. He is a technically sound tackler who can hit hard and provide strong run support while at the same time cover a variety of receivers down the field and has developed a good rapport with Smith and Carroll.

“I feel comfortable with those guys,” said Marshall, who was willing to play safety when he was signed. “I’ve got full confidence in Sean and Nolan. Sean really put what he can do on film last week when we played our last home game. That’s something I told him, to just come up and tackle because that’s something that a lot of guys want to see him do and he did it last week. Nolan, we know what he can do but fans and everyone else probably don’t know what he can do. We have confidence in Nolan and Nolan’s just got to come in and play.”

Smith and Carroll have played together for two seasons and quickly developed a good chemistry, so Smith’s confidence in Carroll has only grown through this preseason. He also revealed that he and Marshall have clicked and they are prepared to be the leaders in the secondary.

“He brings energy and excitement to the group,” Smith said. “He’s a very aggressive guy and he’s so versatile. He can play inside and out so when you have a guy like that on your defense it always helps out.”

As for Carroll, he is looking to both of those guys for guidance while at the same time carrying an air of confidence in himself that he is capable of lining up with them against quality receivers. It has gotten to the point now where he sees all three of them easily getting on the same page regardless of the situation.

“Ever since Rich came in nothing’s really been different. We’ve jelled with him and he’s jelled well with us,” Carroll said. “Him being a seven-year vet, he acts like us, not from a maturity standpoint but as far as jelling with us together. We all like the same things, we all talk about the same things and that’s good because that reflects on the field. We all feel like we’re brothers out there so we all trust each other out there. And I feel like we all play with the same aggressive style as far as competing and that’s what we need out there.”

When the Dolphins open up the regular season September 9th at the Houston Texans, Marshall, Carroll and Smith will be put to the test right away against one of the league’s most dangerous passing attacks. Texans quarterback Matt Schaub is healthy again after missing the last six games of the 2011 season with a Lisfranc injury, as is his Pro Bowl wide receiver Andre Johnson. Tenth-year veteran wide receiver Kevin Walter is no slouch either and could draw Marshall quite a bit.

Since Marshall appears to welcome challenges, there is no better way to begin his Dolphins tenure than to try and shut down the defending the AFC South champions.

LONG KEEPS TEAMMATES ON THEIR TOES: This afternoon’s practice began in a light-hearted fashion thanks to the music picked out by Pro Bowl left tackle Jake Long, which made his early exit from the bubble a little disconcerting.

Long was dancing and singing along to a couple of country music songs he directed to be played over the speakers while he and his teammates stretched and finished warm-ups. A little over an hour later during team drills, Long left the practice field with some of the trainers after getting shaken up.

“Right now there’s nothing that I know of,” Head Coach Joe Philbin said regarding Long’s status. “I got off the practice field, ate a meal, and I started watching a little practice film. I have no information, and even if I did at this point, I wouldn’t be sharing it.”

Rookie right tackle Jonathan Martin moved over to the left side in Long’s absence and right guard Artis Hicks moved out to right tackle, with John Jerry filling in at right guard. That’s how the starting offense looked for the remainder of the practice.

Long’s importance to the offensive line and to the entire team has never been in question, especially to rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who was named the starter last week. He kept his focus on the field and then stayed the course in his weekly session with the media.

“I just wish the best for Jake,” Tannehill said. “It’s a tough situation any time one of your teammates goes down. I don’t know what his situation is. I really have no idea, but hopefully it’s not too bad and we can get him back soon.”

Tannehill and the rest of the team will fly out to Dallas tomorrow afternoon in advance of Wednesday night’s fourth and final preseason game against the Cowboys.

DOLPHINS TIDBITS: Wide receiver Marlon Moore had one of his best practices, opening with a textbook over-the-shoulder catch of a 40-yard touchdown pass thrown by Tannehill. He held on despite good coverage from cornerback Quinten Lawrence. … This was one of the more intense practices as players are feeling the pressure that comes with the start of the regular season, so emotions boiled over briefly. Rookie center Josh Samuda got tangled up with linebacker Austin Spitler and then two rookies – defensive end Olivier Vernon and tight end Michael Egnew – also went at it. Vernon and Egnew were both third-round picks in April’s NFL Draft. … Rookie wide receiver Rishard Matthews, who is battling hard for one of the last receiver spots on the roster, made a nice catch in the left corner of the end zone of a fade pass thrown by Pat Devlin.
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