AFC East: Miami Corners Showing Their Value

The Dolphins may not be in the playoff hunt but it looks like the talent they've stockpiled at corner is finally panning out.

Third-year cornerbacks haven't cemented their positions
The Sports Xchange

   Vontae Davis and Sean Smith talked a big game about proving they are the best cornerback tandem in the NFL this season, but the pair has come up short.

   Problems in the secondary convinced the Dolphins to use two high draft picks in 2009 on cornerbacks: Davis in the first round, Smith in the second round.

   However, the pair's inconsistent results might convince management to readdress the position in free agency or the draft.

   Davis has been plagued by hamstring injuries for a good portion of the season, and he has missed three games. He also received a one-game suspension for failing to conduct himself like a professional after he reportedly showed up to practice late, and with liquor on his breathe.

   When he's been healthy and focused, Davis has been solid, contributing 28 tackles and two interceptions.

   The same can't be said about Smith, who at one time was viewed as the superior member of the duo.

   Smith, who has contributed 46 tackles and one interception this season, spent his first two seasons developed a reputation as a technician, someone who locked down the opposition in one-on-one coverage. In those two seasons, he only allowed three touchdowns. But Smith has allowed five touchdowns in 2011, the last of which came on Thanksgiving against the Cowboys.

   It has become clear Smith is better-suited to being a physical, press concern because of his size (6-foot-3, 214 pounds). He struggles finding the ball.

   Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan admits the Dolphins were forced to play plenty of zone defense when Davis was sidelined.

   While the secondary has been improving the past month, the unit won't reach its potential until Smith and Davis start to show some growth.

   "Anybody can play a good down or two. It's like a quarterback. If you throw a pick for a touchdown, if you can still come back and get a touchdown and score a field goal, that's a great quarterback," Nolan said. "The same goes for a corner. You might give something up. Hopefully it's not a touchdown. But if you do you need to come back and make up for it, that's what's important for us. ... We'll have some bad downs out there, but you've got to be one better than you are bad."

Carey's Injury Concern
   Vernon Carey has started 103 of the 117 games he's played for the Dolphins.

   It appears the team's starting right guard will continue to build on those numbers despite suffering what initially appeared to be possible season-ending ankle injury.

   Carey, whose left leg was rolled up on Thursday during a goal-line run late in the Dolphins' 20-19 loss to the Cowboys, left Dallas on crutches. However, an MRI of the ankle showed there wasn't a fracture, and the swelling subsided in less than 48 hours.

   Carey's improvement has been so rapid that he's walking without a boot, and the former University of Miami standout should be able to start Sunday's home game against Oakland if he can make it through this week's practices.

   "I thought it was much worse, but it looked and felt worse than it was," said Carey, the 19th overall pick in the 2004 draft.

   Having Carey finish the season gives Miami's offensive line a chance to continue developing. Despite allowing a disappointing 34 sacks in 11 games, the unit has improved over the past month from a pass-protection standout.

   The line's continued growth will be critical this week considering Oakland has produced 32 sacks. However, the Raiders are fairly soft against the run. Counting the 172 rushing yards the Bears gained in Sunday's 25-20 loss to Oakland, the Raiders' defense is allowing 5.29 yards per carry this season.

   The Cowboys held the Dolphins to 3.6 yards per rush. The recent struggles have Miami's rushing average at 3.9, the first time the average has dipped under 4.0 yards per attempt all season.

   If Carey does suffer a setback, it's likely that Nate Garner, who plays every position on the offensive line, would serve as his replacement, starting his second game of the season and the 10th overall of his four-year career.

   Carey has started all but two games he's played for the Dolphins the past seven seasons, but considering the Dolphins tore up his old, lucrative contract and signed him to a one-year deal this summer, 2011 might be his final season in Miami.

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