The Dolphins invested a lot at the cornerback position in the offseason, but the success of their secondary in 2020 very well could depend on their safeties.
And the two projected starters both happen to be converted cornerbacks: Eric and Bobby McCain.
Rowe, in fact, will be heading into his first full season as an NFL safety after being switched from cornerback six games into the 2019 season. McCain, for his part, was moved to safety last offseason after playing cornerback (boundary and the slot) for his first four NFL seasons.
While having two former cornerbacks at safety certainly would seem to offer advantages in coverage, it does present some challenges when it comes to stopping the run.
"When guys have played multiple positions and they — especially at the safety position — to be able to relive some of their corner days and some of the issues they may have had at that position and then communicate it and understand it from that perspective, I think that goes a long way," head coach Brian Flores said. "It’s one thing to try to put yourself in those shoes. It’s another thing to have actually been in them, but the flip side of that is not a lot of corners have gone down in the box and played — had to fit the run game either — so there’s a learning curve and a learning process for guys who move from corner to safety or safety to linebacker or linebacker to D-line. There’s always a little bit of a learning curve.
"I think both guys have accepted the challenge to move positions. I think it helps the communication to have been in those other spots going from corner to safety, but there’s some challenges as well. I would say fitting the run and dealing with run fits is a little bit different for both guys— obviously Rowe more than Bobby — but at the end of the day I think both guys are working to improve. They’re working to get better and I’m pleased with both guys.”
Rowe had a really strong performance after his move to safety last year, and that was good enough to earn him a contract extension.
McCain, for his part, didn't have a great season, but played well enough in 2017 as a nickel corner to earn a four-year extension.
Along with those two, rookie fourth-round pick Brandon Jones also played some nickel corner at the University of Texas along with his duties at safety.
“I think you see how the game is now," DB coach Gerald Alexander said. "Offenses are trying to do everything they can to attack space, especially in the passing game. You need guys who have the athleticism to be able to cover in space and be tough enough to be able to support on the run. Those guys are much valued now in today’s NFL than maybe in years past or in the history of the NFL, when things were kind of a little bit more condensed and heavy run-oriented. So when you have guys like Bobby, when you have guys like Eric and you have guys like Brandon, who are really good in space but also are smart, great communicators and tough enough to support the run, those guys are valued in today’s game.”