With opening day less than two weeks away, the Miami Dolphins continue pressing through training camp in South Florida, turning head coach Brian Flores’ defensive vision into a reality. Flores is building a secondary of players where the importance of solid coverage go hand in hand with sure tackling. We’ll focus here on the Dolphins safeties for the 2020 season, which is a mixed bag of veterans, a high pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, and some league journeyman.
The Dolphins starting safeties in 2020
Rowe followed Flores from New England to Miami in the off-season of 2019. However, due to his athleticism, teams had spent most of Rowe’s career, forcing him into the cornerback position, where Miami initially used him. However, in Week 6, Rowe was put in as the starter at the strong safety position and remained there. He ended up posting career highs in tackles and passes defended. His natural ball skills in coverage shone due to his good length
Add in that Rowe is faster than most tight ends and can run with any running back, and his contract extension with the Dolphins to be their strong safety makes a lot of sense. While his run diagnosis and fits are still improving, he’s always been a willing a tackler and has found a long term home in Miami.
McCain was another player in the Dolphins secondary ushered to a new position in 2019. He was asked to play more on the roof as the free safety in Flores’ scheme. His versatility will be tested in 2020 as he will be part of three safety looks with Rowe, and rookie Brandon Jones. McCain will have duties covering slot receivers, tight ends, and running backs while also making the secondary calls. However, his tackling will need to improve as he will often be the last line of defense.
Drafting Brandon Jones added an element the Dolphins didn’t have
Starting two former cornerbacks at safety does come with some concerns when it comes to tackling. The Dolphins used a third-round selection on Brandon Jones out of Texas. Jones brings a physical presence as a tackler that doesn’t currently exist in the Dolphins safety room. He’ll need to get better at wrapping up on tackles but runs through ball carriers and receivers with authority. He’ll need to move in a more controlled fashion in later play as he sometimes overruns his spot.
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His coverage in zone is better suited closer to the line of scrimmage, where he can use his length to disrupt passing windows. His deeper zone coverage is adequate as he struggles to change direction left to right. He will need to improve in man coverage by sinking his hips better and staying in the hip pocket of the receiver. His tendency to get stood up a little too straight causes those issues when it comes to changing direction.
Who are the Dolphins safeties fighting for reserve roles in 2020?
Frazier was signed in April as a special teams standout and a good tackler. For Frazier to see reps on defense, he’ll need to improve his coverage skills. To do that, he needs to improve his lateral ability to aide him in running with backs and tight ends. His reckless style, which aides his special teams play, hinders him in zone coverage. He needs to remain disciplined in his drops and attack the ball and man at the same time. His aggressiveness, tackling ability, and size, at 223 pounds, should be appealing in goal-line and short-yardage situations.
Dinson was an undrafted free agent for the Dolphins after an Auburn career where he was a physical safety with a reputation as a hard hitter. He sinks his hips and drives well through ball carriers, finishing with excellent tackling form. If he can use this trait in his coverage skills, he’ll significantly improve because he brings good length to the safety position. Dinson needs to work on focus in coverage as he can fall for play-action or ball fakes from the QB.
Fejedelem comes over to the Dolphins after spending his first four years with the Cincinnati Bengals. He is a robust special team player who fits best as a box safety or nickel linebacker. He’s physical in run support and smart with his angles. Fejedelem is better in zone coverage, as he is disciplined enough to stay in his hook the curl or flat route responsibility. Man coverage is still a work in progress as he isn’t as athletic as a strong man coverage cornerback needs to be.
Holley was signed over a week ago after the Canadian Football League season, where he won Most Outstanding Rookie in 2019. Whether it’s been in college, the arena league, or the CFL, he’s put up incredible tackle production, having been constantly around the ball carrier or receiver. His late arrival to training camp certainly isn’t going to help, but his intelligence and ability to find the ball make him a great practice squad type who can then learn the defense and possibly be called up if required.
Summarizing the Dolphins safeties for 2020
The Dolphins are emphasizing versatility within their safety room for 2020. Rowe and McCain, as starters will continue to work on their skills in run defense while being able to offer plus coverage. Jones won’t be rushed as all rookies in the 2020 season are behind the eight ball. Frazier, Dinson, Fejedelem, and Holley will battle for special team and reserve duties. The Dolphins safeties in 2020 should improve vastly as their starters grow more comfortable at the position later in the season.