Next up in the series of training camp positional previews are the safeties.
What to expect: Miami's group of safeties dropped like flies last season, with ligaments snapping seemingly every game. Losing Yeremiah Bell for the season in the first game immediately set things off on the wrong foot, and there was little playmaking to be seen from the backups. However, given all the injuries, Miami's secondary still ranked 11th best against opposing tight ends and 13th against opposing running backs. The safeties deserve some credit for that. Their success this year will depend largely upon staying healthy and improving their deep coverage against wide receivers.
Here's a closer look at the individual safeties currently on the roster and what can be expected of them this coming season:
Everyone had high hopes for Bell entering last season, as he was coming off a healthy 2006 in which he flashed consistent big play ability. Even though he wasn't a starter from the beginning of the season that year, Bell still managed to record 68 tackles, 2 sacks, 13 PD, 3 FF, and 2 FR. It was almost a given that Bell would be involved in some kind of game-changing play at least once a game. All that promise was derailed in the very first game last season, when Bell tore his Achilles tendon. He'll be back in the starting lineup from week one again this year, and it's anyone's guess as to how long he'll stay healthy. The Dallas Cowboys' teams of the past few years are well known for their impeccable health, so there is some hope that Miami will be a healthier team overall this year. Everyone's waiting to see what Bell can do if he starts for a whole year. Maybe 2008 is that year.
Jason Allen has, in general, been a bust in his first two seasons, but he finally showed a glimpse of promise during the second half of last season when he was given the opportunity to start. He's still awful against the run and he made too many mistakes in deep coverage, a definite no-no for the free safety. On the other hand, he did come up with a few big plays in pass defense. He should get the opportunity to start from week one, but he needs to improve his success rate (a disappointing 43%) and his Adjusted Pass Yards allowed (12.3, among the very worst in the league). We all know about his phenomenal physical talents, but he has still not translated that into the kind of success he's capable of on the field. Another year of experience and a new coaching staff should help somewhat. This year will go a long way towards determining whether Jason Allen will have a future with the Dolphins.
Hill is another safety recovering from surgery, as he tore his ACL in October. Allen should supplant Hill as the starting FS, but if he falters, Hill is an adequate replacement. He's more suited to being a nickel/dimeback at this point in his career, but he still offers suitable run/pass defense numbers.
Davis is a special teams stud, and he'll make the team simply for that reason. He needs to prove he can consistently play well on defense if he wants to earn any time in the backfield rotation.
Crocker has tons of experience from his time in Atlanta, and his deep coverage abilities are solid. He's a liability in run defense, but he would make a good dimeback in obvious passing situations. Last season he had 10 passes defensed and 3 INTs.
Bryan, an undrafted rookie free agent last year, got a lot more playing time than he was suited for last season with all of the injuries. It's admirable that he's made it through the regime change, but I'm not sure he has enough talent to make the final roster.
Here's my predicted depth chart:
SS - Yeremiah Bell
FS - Jason Allen
1. Renaldo Hill
2. Keith Davis
3. Chris Crocker
Training camp battle to watch: Allen vs. Hill for the starting FS spot.