Brian Flores proved a lot last season. Not only did he show he was a leader of men, someone who could rally a team during some dark times, he was an incredible teacher, specifically on the defensive side of the ball. Miami’s defense went from letting up 59 and 43 points early in the season to managing a victory agains the Tom Brady led Patriots in Foxboro.
The are in which Flores showed his true abilities as a coach was in the secondary. The Dolphins shut down Xavien Howard 5 games into the 2019 season which many tend to ignore when discussing Miami’s defensive improvement. With their only star player at the time riding the bench, the Phins rolled out a revolving door of defensive backs week in and week out. Flores would take other team’s leftovers and shine them up, turning them into reputable defenders by leaning on their strengths and putting them in position to succeed.
For example, Eric Rowe, the Patriots castoff cornerback who struggled early on playing the boundary. Rather than relegating him to the bench or further down in the rotation, the defensive staff placed him at safety, hoping his knowledge of the defense and ranging ability would translate. It did. Rowe is slated to be Miami’s starting free safety this season and managed to play the entire season without injury. He even inked a 3-year contract extension worth $18 million.
The team found some other gems as well, namely Nik Needham who shined in his role as a slot corner. He will most likely stay in the role, and a second season in the defense will only bode well for the 23 year old. His aggressive style of play and confidence translated well and it is clear that’s the prototype of DB’s Flores likes.
A late season addition, Adrian Colbert, also recently retained safety Adrian Colbert who joined the team in November after beginning his career in San Francisco. Colbert showed some promise as a ranging safety, but his one-year deal points to his role as a depth player going forward, the team will likely try to upgrade the position in the draft or minimally add competitive depth.
Other corners who played significant snaps for the Dolphins defense include Jomal Wiltz, Ryan Lewis, and Nate Brooks. The latter two were picked up off the waiver wire and thrust into starting roles, the fact they did not drown and were able to swim with the rest of the defense shows how well they were being coached. For this reason, do not expect the team to invest a first round selection in the secondary as they have proven they can do a lot with a little. This also allows GM Chris Grier to continuously scour the NFL landscape for potential upgrades who are released from other teams, something that is necessary for a consistent franchise.
The depth is vastly improved from the beginning of last season, but the big name players who will be starting for the defensive unit is on another level. Notably, the team signed Byron Jones away from the Dallas Cowboys on a huge deal. Jones is an athletic freak, who can not only match up with physical receivers but also speedy ones. His explosion and ability to close at the point of attack makes him a perfect complement to Xavien Howard, who possesses an elite ability to be draped over the opposing team’s number one option. Howard’s ball hawking nature will also allow him to take advantage of more forced throws considering the other half of the field will also be shut down providing the Phins with a potent 1-2 punch.
Bobby McCain will be returning from injury as well. The former 5th round selection in 2015 is only 26 years old, and was in year one of his transition to free safety. He struggled early on, and ideally the team can find a true starter at the position allowing McCain to play a more versatile role in Miami’s “positionless” scheme.
Regardless, there is no doubt that the defense will be much improved. Considering the current additions to the roster as well as others which may be coming from the draft, the youth is definitely something to be excited about. Brian Flores and co. will be tasked with ensuring continued growth from the unit as a whole in order to legitimately bring the defense into the upper half of the league. If this is achieved, there is a real chance the Dolphins turn this thing around much sooner than many expected.
What do you think of Miami’s current situation in the secondary? Was the Jones signing too rich for your taste? Or was he an addition worth the cost? Let us know in the comments below!