Dolphins | cornerbacks

Sean Smith is lone standout among Miami Dolphins’ cornerbacks

 

The Vontae Davis trade pushed Sean Smith into a bigger role at cornerback. That’s key for Miami, as he’s the sole corner thriving.

WEB VOTE In retrospect, was it unwise for the Dolphins to release Chad Johnson, considering they still need a reliable third receiver?

abeasley@miamiherald.com

Quiet actions often say more than the loudest words.

Take, for instance, Sunday in Arizona.

Early in Miami’s loss to the Cardinals, Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona’s all-world receiver, motioned out of the backfield and into the slot. Standing across from him: Jimmy Wilson, Miami’s little-used reserve.

Sean Smith, perhaps sensing a dangerous mismatch, sprinted over and waved Wilson off, sort of like a pro wrestler tagging in for a pin.

The subtext: With Vontae Davis long gone, this is now Smith’s defensive backfield.

His fellow corners would do well to follow his lead. Smith is the only Dolphin who has covered on a consistent basis this year.

The Dolphins enter their Week 5 matchup with Cincinnati with the league’s third-worst pass defense, surrendering 297.8 yards per game. And that’s when they’re healthy, which is no longer the case.

Both Richard Marshall (back) and Nolan Carroll (Achilles’) — the team’s No. 2 and No. 3 corners — missed all of practice Wednesday. R.J. Stanford, who hasn’t taken a single snap on defense this year, lined up as the starter alongside from Smith in full-team drills.

And here’s who’s up next for the banged up unit: Andy Dalton’s high-flying Bengals and their phenom A.J. Green, whose 428 receiving yards are second-most in the NFL (behind only Miami’s Brian Hartline).

“They’re probably the best group in the league,” Carroll said of the wideouts for the Bengals , owners of league’s seventh-ranked passing attack. “They’re big, strong, fast. They have a really good quarterback. They know how to spread the ball around.”

Carroll also said that he was held out of practice for purely precautionary reasons, and expects to play Sunday. Marshall shouldn’t be written off either. He missed a day of practice last week to rest his back, yet still started against the Cardinals.

Still, the Dolphins were worried enough about their depth at the position that they elevated De’Andre Presley from their practice squad Wednesday.

Presley is a 5-10, 185-pound undrafted rookie out of Appalachian State, where he played quarterback, wide receiver and returned punts and kicks as senior.

“I didn’t play corner up until I got into the NFL,” Presley said. “This has been a completely new and completely big transition for me.”

Presley was so uncertain about his place on the team that when general manager Jeff Ireland called him into his office Tuesday, he feared he might get cut. Instead, he found out he might play on Sunday.

As Dolphins defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle knows too well, his team can’t have enough help on the back end Sunday.

For the past nine years, Coyle was Cincinnati’s defensive backs coach. Recently, his secondary had to battle Green, et al. every day in practice.

“Obviously, I have a pretty good knowledge of these guys having been there as long as I was,” Coyle said. “Early in the week, you talk a little bit about that.”

Another conversation early in the week: Sean Smith’s role. Before the Cardinals game, Smith asked to shadow Fitzgerald all game, and the Dolphins granted his wish. And given the success Smith had — with two interceptions, both leading to Dolphins points — there’s no reason to believe we won’t see the strategy again.

Through four weeks, Smith is the league’s 23rd-rated corner, and by far the most effective cover man on the team, according to Pro Football Focus. Quarterbacks have targeted him 36 times — tied for the most in the league — but with little success. They have completed just 42 percent of their passes thrown in his coverage area, with a quarterback rating of 52.7.

“From a physical standpoint, Sean is a good matchup against big receivers, big physical guys that can run,” Coyle said. “It was great to see him take the challenge and play, perhaps, his best game since he’s been a Dolphin.”

That’s the good news. The bad: He’s the only Dolphins corner rated among the league’s 80 best.

Teams have completed 61 percent of their passes on Marshall, and have a quarterback rating of 101.2. Carroll has surrendered 14.3 yards per catch.

Such generosity is out of character for a Kevin Coyle unit. The Bengals’ pass defense ranked ninth league-wide last year, allowing just 211.6 yards per game.

But part of that permissiveness can be chalked up to pure volume. Teams have thrown 172 passes against the Dolphins through four games, the most any NFL defense has been thrown against to date.

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