As the Miami Dolphins prepare for the start of training camp, we break down every position with a look back at what happened in the offseason, what to watch in the summer and what might happen in the regular season.
We continue the series with the linebackers.
ON THE ROSTER
• CB Jaytlin Askew — Rookie out of Georgia Tech; entered the NFL in 2021 as an undrafted free agent
• CB Terrell Bonds — First-year player out of Tennessee State; entered the NFL in 2019 as an undrafted free agent
• CB Justin Coleman — Sixth year out of Tennessee; entered the NFL in 2015 as an undrafted free agent
• CB Javaris Davis — First-year player out of Auburn; entered the NFL in 2020 as an undrafted free agent
• CB Tino Ellis — First-year player out of Maryland; entered the NFL in 2020 as an undrafted free agent
• CB Xavien Howard — Sixth year out of Baylor; entered the NFL in 2016 as a second-round pick of the Dolphins
• CB Noah Igbinoghene — Second year out of Auburn; entered the NFL in 2020 as a first-round pick (30th overall) of the Dolphins
• CB Byron Jones — Seventh year out of UConn; entered the NFL in 2015 as a first-round pick (27th overall) of the Dallas Cowboys
• CB Cre'Von LeBlanc — Sixth year out of Florida Atlantic; entered the NFL in 2016 as an undrafted free agent
• CB Nik Needham — Third year out of UTEP; entered the NFL in 2019 as an undrafted free agent
• CB Jamal Perry — Third year out of Iowa State; entered the NFL in 2017 as an undrafted free agent
• CB Trill Williams — Rookie out of Syracuse; entered the NFL in 2021 as an undrafted free agent
• DB Jason McCourty — 13th year out of Rutgers; entered the NFL in 2009 as a sixth-round pick of the Tennessee Titans
• S Clayton Fejedelem — Sixth year out of Ilinois; entered the NFL in 2016 as a seventh-round pick of the Cincinnati Bengals
• S Jevon Holland — Rookie out of Oregon; entered the NFL in 2021 as a second-round pick of the Dolphins
• S Nate Holley — First-year player out of Kent State; entered the NFL in 2020 as a free agent
• S Brandon Jones — Second year out of Texas; entered the NFL in 2020 as a third-round pick of the Dolphins
• S Eric Rowe — Seventh year out of Utah; entered the NFL in 2015 as a second-round pick of the Philadelphia Eagles
Jan. 5— S Brian Cole II, Davis and Ellis signed to futures contracts
Jan. 26 — Bonds signed to a futures contract
March 15 — S Kavon Frazier became an unrestricted free agent
March 18 — Signed Coleman as a free agent
April 14 — Perry re-signed as an exclusive-rights free agent
April 19 — Needham re-signed as an exclusive-rights free agent
April 30 — Selected Holland in the second round (36th overall) of the 2021 NFL draft
May 6 — Released S Bobby McCain
May 7 — Signed McCourty as an unrestricted free agent from the New England Patriots
May 13 — Signed Askew as a rookie free agent
May 17 — Claimed Williams off waivers from the New Orleans Saints
July 16 — Waived Cole
July 23 — Signed LeBlanc as a free agent
Howar: 16 starts, 10 interceptions, 20 passes defensed, 1 forced fumble
Jones: 14 starts, 2 interceptions, 4 passes defensed, 1 forced fumble
Rowe: 14 starts, 91 tackles, 2 interceptions, 11 passes defensed
McCain: 15 starts, 46 tackles, 1 interception, 5 passes defensed
Needham: 6 starts, 58 tackles, 2 interceptions, 7 passes defensed
The Dolphins defense thrived last season off turnovers, and it was the secondary that led the charge. Front and center was Xavien Howard, who became the first NFL player to reach double digits in interceptions since 2006. Byron Jones had a much better first season in Miami than many are giving him credit for and Nik Needham played well as the nickel corner down the stretch (with the exception of the final three quarters of the season finale at Buffalo). At safety, Eric Rowe was very good in coverage against tight ends, even though he gave up big numbers to both Travis Kelce and Darren Waller in games when he simply was beaten on plays on the ball.
The Dolphins have done very little at cornerback since the end of last season, but made some headline-grabbing moves at safety. The biggest move probably was the release of McCain, who was tied with DeVante Parker for longest tenure on the team. The Dolphins then went out and selected Holland in the second round before signing McCourty, a veteran with experience at both corner and safety who figures to play the latter for Miami.
THE TOP SUMMER STORYLINES
lit's pretty obvious that nothing will merit attention in the secondary as much as what happens with Howard after he skipped the mandatory June minicamp because of displeasure over his contract. Given the hefty fines ($50,000/day, not rescindable) for players skipping training camp, one certainly would expect him to be in attendance, but there'll be a lot of attention no doubt paid to his demeanor if the Dolphins don't redo his contract. That's just one of the many subplots in the secondary, and others include the development of 2020 first-round pick Noah Igbinoghene and how quickly rookie second-round pick Jevon Holland can play himself into a role of prominence.
LONG SHOT TO WATCH
We'll split the vote here between rookie free agent Trill Williams, who's got a lot of upside but dealt with injuries at Syracuse and LeBlanc, who's got NFL experience but has to be classified as a "long shot" given how late in the process he signed.
THE KEY SUMMER BATTLE
This is pretty obvious, and it's the battle to replace Bobby McCain as the free safety. The list of candidates should include McCourty, Holland and 2020 third-round pick Brandon Jones. There also should be an interesting battle for the slot corner job between incumbent Nik Needham and newcomer Justin Coleman, with Igbinoghene as an outside candidate.
BETTER OR WORSE THAN THIS TIME LAST YEAR
The key changes here involve the arrival of Holland and McCourty — and we could throw in Coleman and LeBlanc as well — as well as the departure of McCain. While McCain was a respected veteran with great leadership qualities, he really wasn't a playmaker in the back end, so it's impossible to conclude anything other than the Dolphins being clearly better in the secondary this summer.
PROJECTED OPENING-DAY STARTERS
We'll think positively here and assume that Howard will be with the Dolphins in 2021 and ready to have another big year, and that should give Miami a top-notch secondary. Byron Jones is a lock to start at one outside cornerback spot and Eric Rowe is back to start at strong safety. At this point, we'll go with McCourty as the starting deep safety because of his experience and we'll go with Coleman as the slot corner because he's been effective in that role so far in his NFL career (even though he has struggled at times on the outside).
Alain Poupart has covered the Miami Dolphins on a full-time basis since 1989. You can follow him on Twitter at @PoupartNFL. Feel free to submit questions every Friday for the All Dolphins mailbag.