POSITION ANALYSIS - DB

Before the start of the free agency signing period on Feb. 28, we will examine every position on the Dolphins, grade each player's performance in the 2002 season and evaluate the prospects for the 2003 season. We continue this series with the defensive backs.

2002 RECAP

Patrick Surtain — The former second-round pick continued his strong work and he was finally rewarded with an invitation to the Pro Bowl. Surtain again was outstanding in coverage and he also helped out in run support. The only negative on his performance was a stupid personal foul penalty at Buffalo, which he said came as a retaliation for Bills wideout Eric Moulds spitting at him. But overall, Surtain was stellar. Grade: A

Sam Madison — There was a lot of criticm about Madison's play, including some from the man himself. But the truth is Madison actually had a decent season. It just wasn't up to the very high standards Madison has set for himself. In the end, Madison wound up replacing an ailing Surtain in the Pro Bowl, so his play couldn't have been that bad. Grade: B

Brock Marion — After a very strong start, Marion really didn't do much in the second half of the season and he truly didn't deserve his Pro Bowl invitation. Marion simply was beaten one too many times on key plays. Grade: C

Arturo Freeman — The Dolphins expressed a lot of confidence that Freeman could do the job in his first year as a starter at strong safety. Unfortunately, they were wrong. Freeman, simply put, really struggled, particularly in the games at Kansas City and Buffalo. He also didn't make any big plays. Grade: D-

Jamar Fletcher — The favorite whipping boy of a lot of observers, it's obvious Fletcher wasn't nearly as good as a nickel cornerback as Terry Cousin had been the year before. But Fletcher also wasn't as bad as he was made out to be. He just can't be put in certain situations, such as being asked to cover Marvin Harrison one-on-one after Surtain went out with a knee injury. Grade: C-

Shawn Wooden — The former starter really had a disappointing season when he played in dime situations. The one highlight (lowlight?) that stands out was the one big play at Minnesota when both Fletcher and Wooden allowed Randy Moss to easily beat a double team for a long gain. Grade: C-

Scott McGarrahan — He made a couple of plays on defense, but his main contribution came on special teams. Grade: Inc.

Trent Gamble — A very good special teams player who saw little action on defense. Grade: Inc.

OUTLOOK FOR 2003

The Dolphins clearly gave up too many big plays in the passing game in 2002, and the secondary needs to perform better next season.

Simply put, the Dolphins need better play from their safeties and from their nickel corner.

Let's start with the nickel cornerback. The Dolphins clearly want to bring in someone to compete and possibly replace Fletcher in that role.

Unfortunately, trying to lure someone to come in as a backup isn't easy. Someone like St. Louis unrestricted free agent Dre' Bly is going to want to go somewhere where he can be a starter.

What the Dolphins have to hope for is landing a veteran who can't find much of a market and would accept a backup role as well as a lower salary.

The Atlanta Falcons recently released veteran corner Ashley Ambrose, and he's certainly someone the Dolphins would consider if he's willing to accept what Miami has to offer.

Other free agents to keep an eye on include Atlanta's Kevin Mathis, Tennessee's Donald Mitchell and former Dolphin Terrell Buckley.

Drafting a young cornerback also isn't out of the question, depending on who might be available for the Dolphins. Among names to remember are Texas' Rod Babers, Texas A&M's Sammy Davis and Illinois' Eugene Wilson.

At safety, a veteran like New England's Victor Green would represent an upgrade over Freeman, but it's not likely the Dolphins are going to be looking to spend big money at that position.

It's just as likely they will stick with Marion and Freeman, and hope to get better out of those two.

When it comes to the draft, some of the safeties to remember include Rashean Mathis from Bethune-Cookman, Derek Pagel from Iowa, Colin Branch from Stanford, Nnamdi Asomugha from Cal and Julian Battle from Tennessee.


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