Dolphins secondary improved in 2013, will look for more options next season

Pro Bowler CB Brent Grimes did not allow an opposition touchdown in the 2013 season.

Thomas J. Russo/Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports

Concern about the Miami Dolphins secondary heading into the 2013 season was understandable.

The team had lost two (Sean Smith, Richard Marshall) of its top three cornerbacks from the previous season and potential replacements included two rookies and a veteran coming off a torn Achilles’ tendon.

That veteran, Brent Grimes, proved to be one of the best finds league-wide in free agency.

He helped lead a passing defense that ranked 18th with 234.5 yards per game, allowed 17 touchdowns and compiled 18 interceptions.

Those statistics were better than in ’12, when Miami finished 27th (248.4) with 18 TDs allowed and 10 INTs.

The big-yardage pass plays in ’13 were similar to the year before, when the Dolphins surrendered 60 plays of 20 of more yards and 6 of 40 or more.

In 2013, the defense reduced the number of pass plays 20-plus yards (53) but gave to more 40-plus yarders (10).

STARTERS

Brent Grimes, CB — Grimes became the third Dolphins corner (Sam Madison, Patrick Surtain) to go to the Pro Bowl. He did not allow an opposing receiver to score a touchdown in ’13. His 4 INTs tied Dmitri Patterson for team-high, and he had 60 tackles (52 solo). A bargain free-agent catch, Miami could use its franchise tag on 30-year-old Grimes, though since he had been tagged once by Atlanta the cost would be more than with a player not tagged previously.

Dmitri Patterson, CB –€“ Patterson’s season was limited to six games due to groin injury that eventually put him on injured reserve for the final three games. He had two interceptions in the season-opening win at Cleveland before missing four games.  Upon his return, he had two more INTs over three games. He’s due to earn $5.4 million next season.

Chris Clemons, S — Yet another free agent, the 28-year-old Clemons had 92 tackles (62 solo) and an interception. He proved to be a playmaker this past season and an important leader on the field, as directed coverages.

Reshad Jones, S — Jones was signed to four-year contract extension that made him one of the league’s highest paid safeties. Although he led Miami with 84 solo tackles (107 overall), he struggled in coverage all year. He did return a pick 25 yards for a touchdown against Baltimore.

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BACKUPS

Nolan Carroll, CB — Carroll especially stepped up after Patterson was sidelined with a groin injury. He had 3 INTs and 47 tackles (43 solo) and ranked 4th in the NFL allowing receptions on just less than 48 percent of passes thrown his way. At 27, he’s also a free agent.

Jamar Taylor, CB — Miami’s second-round pick out of Boise State, the 5-foot-10 Taylor was hampered all season by a sports hernia suffered before training camp. He had 3 solo tackles in nine games.

Will Davis, CB — The 5-11 Davis was a third-round pick out of Utah State. His progress was slowed but a foot injury. He had 8 tackles in five games.

Jimmy Wilson, S — The versatile Wilson usually covered the slot in nickel packages, but at times filled in at other secondary spots. He finished with 39 tackles (38 solo) and one forced fumble.

Don Jones, S — A seventh-round pick from Arkansas State, Jones earned a spot on the Pro Football Writers Associations’ AFC All-Rookie Team largely because of his performance on special teams. His most significant play was knocking loose the ball from Atlanta punt returner Harry Douglas — something that led to a tying touchdown.

POSSIBLE FREE-AGENT TARGETS

The Dolphins are very familiar with two corners who could be available — Aqib Talib, of AFC East rival New England, and Vontae Davis, whom Miami traded to Indianapolis before last season. Tennessee’s Alterraun Verner and Green Bay’s Sam Shields, a University of Miami product, also could be on the market.

If Clemons leaves, Miami could look to players including New Orleans’ Malcolm Jenkins or Indianapolis’ Antoine Bethea as options.

BEST DRAFT OPTIONS

New general manager Dennis Hickey, a former defensive back at Tulsa, probably would prefer to use the draft to focus on other needs (e.g. offensive line, running back), especially after two high picks were used for Taylor and Davis last year. But if Grimes, Carroll and Clemons all leave via free agency, Miami probably will need to focus on the secondary. The top corner prospects include Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert, Michigan

State’s Darqueze Dennard and Florida juniors Marcus Roberson and Loucheiz Purifoy. Safeties include Alabama’s Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix, Louisville’s Calvin Pryor and Southern California’s Dion Bailey.

FINAL THOUGHT

The Dolphins need to decide if they will franchise Grimes or sign him to a multiyear deal. If he does not return, Miami likely will need to find veteran help as Taylor and Davis continue to develop. Re-signing Clemons seems to make sense, though Carroll’s return could be less likely.

You can follow Charlie McCarthy on Twitter @mccarthy_chas or email him at mac1763@bellsouth.net.