Cordrea Tankersley was walking off the field after his first NFL start on Sunday when Saints quarterback Drew Brees walked up to him and extended his hand.
Brees congratulated him for his play. And he said something else that resonated.
“He said he loved my competitiveness,” Tankersley said.
That view was echoed by Saints receiver Michael Thomas during their brief postgame chat.
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“Hearing it from those guys gave me a lot of confidence,” said the rookie third-round draft pick from Clemson, who was appearing in his first regular-season game after being inactive the first two weeks.
The Saints, predictably, targeted Tankersley early in Sunday’s game. And though he wasn’t perfect by any means, he allowed just 36 yards, with four of the seven throws completed against him, including a touchdown, according to Pro Football Focus, which PFF said was good enough to rank him 26th best among all cornerbacks who played in Week 4.
On Monday, coach Adam Gase said he will be a starting cornerback for Miami moving forward.
“I think it was pretty good for my first game,” Tankersley said. “Overall, my competitiveness was pretty good.”
Gase said Tankersley’s performance was “good” and Tankersley is “just really what we’re looking for. We like the tall, long corners that come up and press and play physical at the line of scrimmage.”
Tankersley wishes he would have been able to latch onto an interception on a pass he deflected near the Dolphins’ goal-line late in the first quarter.
“I was more than close,” Tankersley said. “I should have brought that in. That could have changed the momentum of the game. More opportunities to come.”
The Dolphins told Tankersley last Wednesday that he would play more on Sunday and informed him on Saturday that he would be starting. Byron Maxwell missed the game with an injury sustained during warmups, but Tankersley was going to start anyway.
“I was excited to get my first start especially against a great quarterback like Drew Brees,” Tankersley said. “I was pretty hyped. [Had] a lot of butterflies.”
How did he get the nerves under control? “All the guys kept encouraging me to play football. After that first series, I got my feet wet and was dialed in from there.”
Tankersley wasn’t surprised about being targeted a lot.
“You have a Hall of Fame quarterback like Drew Brees and a rookie [cornerback], you kind of got to expect that,” he said.
Tankersley had played well in preseason, allowing just a 43 rating in his coverage area, but the Dolphins opted to use Maxwell instead for the first two games. But Maxwell struggled and veteran Alterraun Verner allowed a 69-yard touchdown in the only ball thrown against him.
So the Dolphins opted last week for Tankersley, who played 73 of Miami’s 74 defensive snaps, alongside second-year pro Xavien Howard, who played 72. Slot cornerback Bobby McCain played 46 and Verner one.
While Maxwell gave some receivers space at times, Tankersley tried to crowd them at the line of scrimmage.
“That's our style of play, a lot of man,” Tankersley said. “Just crowd the receivers. Don't give them a lot of [room] to work with. That's kind of been our game plan since [offseason practices].”
Tankersley said he and Howard, who are both 6-1, can give teams problems with their size.
“It could pose a lot of challenges,” Tankersley said. “Young guys who haven’t had a lot of experience but bring a lot of attitude to the team. It can help the team a lot.”
Said safety Reshad Jones: “Both are young and improving a lot. Those guys are going to be good.”
There was a lot of criticism of Tankersley by network draftniks, but the Dolphins didn’t agree with much of it. Among the points made:
• ESPN’s Mel Kiper: "Was beaten more than you want to see. Gets grabby, which doesn’t work in the NFL.”
• ESPN’s Louis Riddick: "He needs to play up at the line of scrimmage. When he’s reading from off, he doesn’t know what to look at. His vision gets lost.”
• NFL Net’s Daniel Jeremiah: “He has a bad habit of panicking once the ball’s in the air. He panics and grabs and has had some penalties. But the height, weight, speed, you’ve got a nice base to work with.”
• NFL Net’s Mike Mayock: “He can run fast. He’s the least interested defensive back in this entire draft supporting the run. [FSU’s] Dalvin Cook had two touchdown runs against them over 50 yards. He was directly responsible for support and did not get involved at all.”
Tankersley was particularly irked by that Mayock criticism, calling it unfair and said he wasn’t primarily responsible for support on either Cook run.
• The Dolphins placed undrafted rookie offensive tackle Eric Smith on injured reserve with a knee injury and promoted defensive back Jordan Lucas from the practice squad to the 53-man roster. Lucas, a sixth-round pick in 2016, appeared in eight games last season.