Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Training Camp Positional Preview 2008: Cornerbacks

Next up in the positional previews are the cornerbacks.

What to expect: In order to gauge the effectiveness of Miami's secondary last year, stay away from the NFL's pass defense rankings. The NFL ranks pass defenses by average pass yards allowed per game. In this regard, Miami ranked fourth overall in the league last season. But Miami's pass defense was hardly a top five unit. It was just that no team had to pass against Miami since it's run defense held up like a wet napkin. In reality, according to the advanced metrics of Pro Football Prospectus, Miami's pass D ranked 27th in the league. Big difference. The bad news is that things aren't likely to drastically improve this season. Miami's pass rush could very well be worse than last year, putting even more pressure on the defensive backs. The team brought in four new CBs this year, but none of them appear to have any shot of replacing the three best CBs from last year.

Here's a closer look at the individual cornerbacks currently on the roster and what can be expected of them this coming season:

Will Allen
Will Allen doesn't get nearly enough credit around the league and especially from Dolphins fans. It's time to recognize that Allen is and has been for a few years now, one of the best corners in the game. Since he's been in Miami he has been a true No. 1 corner, and I expect that level of play to continue for at least one more season. One problem is that Allen is 30 years old, so I have questions about how long he can remain a No. 1 corner. The other problem is that because of the lack of quality depth behind Allen, teams can simply avoid him by throwing to the other side of the field. As it stands, Allen is Miami's only shutdown corner, and he's good in run support and blitzing as well.

Andre' Goodman
Goodman was a pleasant surprise for the Dolphins in 2006, but his 2007 season was a wash as he missed significant time with a shoulder injury that hampered him even after he returned to the field. He says he is fully recovered now, after having undergone another surgery on the shoulder. If he really is healthy again, he should give Michael Lehan a good competition for the starting CB spot opposite Will Allen. His effectiveness hinges solely on his shoulder health, and even if he loses out to Lehan, he will at least serve as a dependable nickelback.

Michael Lehan
Lehan performed well enough as a starter last season that he was re-signed, and he will once again fight to be a starter. He gave up a few too many big plays last year, but the safeties providing deep help were horrendous. He was solid in run support, but could be better.

Travis Daniels
Ever since a nice rookie season, Daniels' career has been in flux - constantly switching between safety and corner, and not finding the same success in either spot that he did in his first year. He's being used as a CB to start this year off, and the hope is that with a new coaching staff, he can settle down at one position. A lot of big plays given up last year were the direct result of blown coverage by Daniels. If he wants to stick around, that'll obviously need to change.

Nate Jones
Jones was primarily a special teams player in Dallas, but he has the opportunity to earn more playing time in this group of corners. So far in training camp he has impressed in coverage.

Joey Thomas
Thomas has history with the coaching staff, but all he's done since entering the league is bounce around from team to team. His only real shot at making this roster seems to be if one of the guys in front of him gets hurt.

Will Billingsley
Billingsley's biggest strength is his blazing speed. No one really knows how well he can actually cover. It may be worth stashing him on the practice squad for a year to see if he develops into a useful player.

Scorpio Babers
Babers, an undrafted rookie free agent, got beat left and right in minicamps, and it doesn't seem like he has much of a shot to make the team.


Here is my predicted depth chart:
1. Will Allen
2. Andre' Goodman
3. Michael Lehan
4. Nate Jones
5. Travis Daniels
6. Will Billingsley (practice squad)

Training camp battle to watch: Goodman vs. Lehan for the starting spot opposite Allen.

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