Stanford Fitting In Nicely With Secondary

Posted Nov 29, 2012

Former Utah cornerback has adapted to his surroundings.

One-sixth of the Miami Dolphins defense hails from the same school, which is about as far away from South Florida as can be – the University of Utah. Cornerback R.J. Stanford is the newest member of the Utes Club in the locker room and is making a name for himself.

Stanford joins cornerback Sean Smith, linebacker Koa Misi and defensive tackle Paul Soliai as former Utah players making an impact in defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle’s system. He and Smith lined up in the same defensive backfield in college and Misi and Soliai also were on the field with him, so when Stanford was claimed off waivers from the Carolina Panthers on September 1st, his transition was a bit easier.

“The transition was pretty smooth because I saw a lot of familiar faces and they showed me love so it was welcoming,” said Stanford, who has eight tackles (seven solo) with six coming in the last two games. “They made me feel welcome even though I was the new kid on the block and as you know, Sean is a funny guy but he keeps it fun and he’s definitely a teammate that you want to play with because he keeps the fun in it. It just feels good to be playing with these guys again.”

Even though Smith and Stanford have the same agent, that had less to do with his signing with the Dolphins than what he did against them in the second preseason game when he was with Carolina. Quarterback Pat Devlin had rallied Miami from a 17-0 halftime deficit and had the offense deep in Panthers territory in the closing minute down 23-17.

After converting a 4th-and-10 from the Carolina 32 with a 12-yard pass to Rishard Matthews, Devlin gambled one time too many as he tried to hit Jeff Fuller in the back of the end zone with four seconds left. Stanford stepped in front of Fuller and intercepted the pass to end the game and give the Panthers the victory.

“Sometimes I joke with Pat because he threw me a good ball and I tell him, ‘Hey man, that was a good pass,’ so I thanked him for the pass,” Stanford said. “I also mess with Jeff sometimes about it, but it feels really good to be here with this team.”

Soliai bristled a little about that play and admitted he has told Stanford that he should have dropped the ball and given the Dolphins another chance. But he couldn’t be happier to have Stanford on his team again because he remembers how productive he was in college and how much of a hard worker he is.

But Smith knows Stanford the best and the two remained close after Smith left school following his junior year and wound up as a second-round pick of the Dolphins in 2009. Smith never doubted that his former college teammate could succeed at the next level and was quick to point out that the two of them were part of the conference’s No. 1 secondary at Utah.

“I know what he can do when he’s out there and I know he’ll go out there and hold it down,” said Smith, who is tied for the team lead in interceptions with two and has made 49 tackles (44 solo). “He’s a guy who’s going to come up and stick his nose in any tackle, he’s not afraid to do that, and he’s also going to be right there in position to make plays. I’m just happy to see him finally get a shot.”

Head Coach Joe Philbin was convinced from the moment the Dolphins signed Stanford that he would be able to make a contribution, first on special teams and later on in the secondary. Seeing it firsthand in Carolina definitely left an impression, and these last two games he has seen Coyle increase Stanford’s snap count at cornerback.

Last week against the Seattle Seahawks, Stanford split snaps with Nolan Carroll and that ended up benefiting both players because of the amount of snaps they get on special teams. Philbin

“He’s been with us for quite some time now and when you get a player initially there’s a little bit of adjustment period and there’s no question about it,” Philbin said. “I think he’s beyond that and now he’s playing a little more instinctively, a little faster, a little more decisively and I think that’s enabled him to earn more opportunities.”

Wide receivers Brian Hartline and Davone Bess go against Stanford every day in practice and they have come away impressed with the skill set he brings to the position. Hartline describes him as a smart cornerback with strength and quickness being two of his bigger assets.

Bess also stressed Stanford’s intelligence and ability to read routes as something that sticks out in practice and games, but he also pointed to a physical attribute Stanford shares with Smith even though he is five inches shorter and that’s the length of his arms.

“He’s athletic and he has long arms,” Bess aid. “If you’re going against a corner with long arms it’s a little harder to get a release on him because they’re always on your hip. But he’s very sound, very smart and a good player.”

Now that they are on the same team again, Stanford and Smith are striving to stay on the same page and both come up with big plays in order to help the defense and the team as a whole. They even laugh with each other at the end of a series as they recall some funny moments from their time at Utah, but their work ethic is identical.

Smith has willingly taken on the role as the leader of the secondary, so he took it upon himself to break Stanford in right away and get him acclimated to Coyle’s schemes and terminology. He tried to simplify things for Stanford so that he could adjust on the fly.

“All we did was play man at Utah so I already know he can do that,” Smith said. “I told him, ‘in this defense, worst case scenario just play man. Don’t worry about anything else, zone or whatever, go play man and you’ll be all right.’ Right now I’m trying to get him to learn the different aspects of the playbook so he knows which linebacker is dropping his way in certain blitzes. That way he knows which leverage to play, inside or outside.”

Those study sessions are paying off for Stanford with Miami facing a critical stretch of the final five games. This Sunday against the New England Patriots will be the biggest test so far for the defense, especially the secondary going against Tom Brady.

So Stanford is taking it all in stride and focused on making the coaching staff more and more comfortable with putting him on the field in crucial and pressure situations.

“It just feels good to be able to play with these guys in the secondary and play with each other as a unit,” Stanford said. “It does a lot for my confidence because it makes me feel good when the coaches are able to trust you with the defense and put you out there. That just shows how much trust they have in you and so you just go out there and do your job and do it well. But playing with the unit, it feels good out there, and these are the games you love to play in, especially as a corner. There’s no other game I’d like to play in.”

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