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Around the AFC East, Week 3: Miami Dolphins

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The Miami Dolphins turned some heads in the NFL last season by finishing 11-5 and winning the AFC East division outright.  How'd they do it?  Simple - consistent play from QB Chad Pennington, an innovative offensive attack, and most importantly, a defense that sacked opposing quarterbacks 40 times and forced 30 turnovers.

If the Dolphins had a defensive weakness in 2008, it was quite clearly their pass defense.  Despite the constant threat of a solid pass rush, the Dolphins were ranked just No. 25 in pass defense, surrendering 228 passing yards per game (about 24 more yards than the No. 13-ranked Bills).  Add in the fact that WR Terrell Owens joined Randy Moss in the division, and the situation looked a bit more bleak for Miami's secondary.  Then they went ahead and lost two starters - S Renaldo Hill and CB Andre Goodman - in free agency.

So the Dolphins did what any smart team does - they addressed their biggest need position early and often.  Two free agent additions, CB Eric Green and S Gibril Wilson, are joined by two first-day draft picks, corners Vontae Davis and Sean Smith, in a revamped secondary that also saw CB Will Allen get a contract extension.  Which of the rookies has been impressive, and who will eventually start?  Gotta be The Phinsider that fields that question.

The Dolphins spent a lot of time addressing their secondary this off-season, signing Green and Wilson, re-signing Allen and drafting Davis (Round 1) and Smith (Round 2).  With that much turnover, there's obviously going to be some competition.  Who will end up starting and trying to shut down the division's excellent receiving talent (Jets notwithstanding)?

Matty I: If you ask any Dolphin fan, they would tell you that Miami’s biggest position of need was their secondary.  Half of their starting secondary (CB Andre Goodman and FS Renaldo Hill) left via free agency.  Their starting strong safety, Yeremiah Bell, was re-signed a day or two before he hit the open market.  And the Dolphins lacked depth at cornerback.

So what they did thrilled most Dolphin fans.  The signing of Gibril Wilson was a surprise.  Many thought that his acquisition meant the end of Bell’s service in Miami.  But then later that day, Bell re-signed and it was proclaimed that Wilson would play free safety – the position he played when the Giants won the Super Bowl two years ago.  But having only signed one corner, Eric Green, worried some Dolphin fans as we approached the draft.  Little did we know what was in store for the position on day one of the draft.  I was ecstatic when the Dolphins drafted Vontae Davis and even more excited when they drafted my top "draft man crush" of 2009 – Sean Smith – in round two.

So who starts?  We know how the safety position will shape up – with Wilson and Bell starting.  Will Allen, who you mentioned the Dolphins recently re-signed, will definitely be one starter at cornerback.  Through OTAs thus far, Eric Green began as the other starter.  But last week, a switch was made and Smith took over as the other first-team corner opposite Allen.  Tony Sparano said it was due to how well Smith had done and how much he has already improved.

But I think Smith’s move up the depth chart (for now) was more to see how he handles himself against better competition.  And all reports indicate that he played well against Miami’s starting offense.  With that said, however, I think the cornerback depth chart will be very fluid all throughout training camp and it’s anyone’s guess as to who starts opposite of Will Allen.  But I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the team’s top three corners are Allen and the two rookies by the time the regular season rolls around.

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Whether or not these players have bright futures is irrelevant.  I thought the Dolphins did an excellent job addressing an area that was the clear weakness of a pretty solid defense in 2008.  Miami is building their team the right way.  But nobody is going to convince me that rookie corners or Eric Green will be able to match up with Buffalo's ultra-talented top three receivers.  It's just not going to happen.  As I said on Twitter this morning - T.O., meet fresh meat.  Fresh meat?  T.O.

Want to talk Pats and Jets?  Don't worry - we've got those stories coming up as well.