MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Miami Dolphins rookie cornerback Cam Smith has gone from a training camp human highlight reel to a regular-season healthy scratch.
It’s a humbling development for the second-round pick, particularly since Eli Apple has struggled early in the season and Jalen Ramsey and Nik Needham are both on injured lists.
But instead of turning to Smith in Week 3 against the Broncos, Vic Fangio tabbed Justin Bethel — whose 51 snaps were the most of any defender — and Perry Nickerson as Miami’s fifth and sixth defensive backs.
— Bobby Shouse (@B_Shousejr) September 20, 2023
Miami Dolphins Cornerback Cam Smith an Early Season Afterthought
On Thursday, Fangio explained why Smith didn’t dress against the Broncos:
“Cam has been getting better in practice. We’ve been giving him more reps. When you come down to your last couple DBs, special teams plays a part in that. Versatility plays a part in that. We only had three real safeties dressed last week, so we have to have an emergency fourth. So everything plays into that. But I think Cam’s progressing.”
Progressing is a long way away from ready.
And what the Dolphins do is more important than what they say. Smith has been on the field for none of the Dolphins’ 217 defensive plays and only 41 of their 92 special teams snaps in 2023.
Fangio suggested a few weeks back that the Dolphins’ level of trust in Smith isn’t where it needs to be, and the Dolphins seem just fine with playing slightly less skilled players who are regularly in the right place doing the right things than a rookie with tons of talent but trouble executing his assignment.
To that point, Bethel has surrendered just 2.4 yards per target in his 70 snaps on defense and seems to have a firm hold on the job that Apple gave up after an ugly Week 2.
“There’s depth there,” Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel said Wednesday. “That affords you opportunities to kind of have matchups and little nuances that drive those decisions. I can tell you one thing, they didn’t do anything to warrant them not having those jobs.
“Those decisions we make as the week progresses based upon the game plan and how practice reps go. But I was very, very happy with how they rose to the challenge, and I thought they proved us right by putting them out there.”
But this, of course, is subject to change based on performance and health. When asked if the move to Bethel and Nickerson is permanent, Fangio replied Thursday:
“Nothing’s permanent in the NFL. Not for long, right?”
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