Thursday’s preseason opener revealed cracks in the Dolphins’ defense.
But does the drywall need to be gutted? Or will some cosmetic spackling do the job?
The Dolphins considered both options Sunday, making lineup changes to their starting secondary and meeting with a free agent who would presumably take one of those first-string jobs, should he sign.
Cornerback Bashaud Breeland arrived in South Florida for a visit, a flashing neon sign that the Dolphins have concerns about the starting spot opposite Xavien Howard.
Cordrea Tankersley and Torry McTyer have been competing for that job, but on Sunday, both were on the bench when the No. 1 defense was on the field.
Instead, it was Bobby McCain, who has covered the slot almost exclusively this camp, working on the boundary. And it was rookie Minkah Fitzpatrick as Miami’s nickel.
What this tells us: The Dolphins, with their current roster construction, might be more comfortable with having three safeties on the field in passing situations than they are with three corners.
“We’re always going to be moving guys around,” Dolphins coach Adam Gase said. “Trying to figure out what’s the best 11.”
While we’re still four weeks from the start of the season, the Dolphins want to get their secondary figured out soon — and certainly before the third preseason game.
The hope was that Tankersley, a second-year defensive back taken in the third round last year, would win that job. He’s tall and lanky, a prototype for a boundary corner in Matt Burke’s system. But he’s been “up and down,” Gase said, which has the Dolphins thinking of other options.
“We’re going to put our best guys on the field,” McCain said. “Whoever’s most capable of getting the job done, that’s we got to do. We’ve got to win football games. We’re not here to make friends.”
Here’s one way to look at Sunday’s defensive dilemma: Is Fitzpatrick a better nickel cornerback than Tankersley is a boundary corner?
Fitzpatrick can play both safety and corner. Same goes for McCain. That flexibility is an advantage, particularly since Plan A has not gone as planned.
“I feel comfortable at both,” Fitzpatrick said. “At [Alabama], I moved all around. Here, they give me reps all over the place. We all do a good job of just learning the system so we can be interchangeable, can be versatile. It adds value to our defense. It gives a benefit to our defense. It’s another plus.”
The Dolphins recently gave McCain a contract extension that made him the highest-paid nickel corner in the game. But if he becomes a dependable every-down player, that four-year, $27 million deal might be a steal. Some two-dozen NFL corners make more, on average, than McCain.
And with nearly $14 million in remaining cap space, the Dolphins have the resources to add Breeland, should they sign off on his health. Breeland had agreed to a three-year, $24 million deal with the Panthers in March, but Carolina backed out after he failed his physical.
Breeland, who had eight interception, 59 pass breakups and seven forced fumbles in four years as a starter for Washington, cut the heel of his left foot March 4 on a trip to the Dominican Republic when a golf cart hit him in the back of his leg and reopened a wound first suffered in fourth grade. The cut later became infected, requiring a skin graft, and the Panthers voided his contract.
Five months later, Breeland is a coveted commodity. A quarter of the league has some degree of interest, but none has yet met Breeland’s salary demands.
Might the Dolphins? It could depend on what they see out of their new-look secondary this week, particularly in Friday’s preseason game against the Panthers.
“We didn’t play as well as we wanted to” on defense against the Buccaneers, Gase said. “I know Matt wasn’t real happy. The coaching staff wasn’t real happy. We need to have a better performance this next game.”
Miami Herald sportswriter Barry Jackson contributed to this report.
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