MIAMI (AP) — The Miami Dolphins' secondary is more muddled than when training camp began, and clarity might not come anytime soon.
Blame injuries. Starting safety Louis Delmas was sidelined for the season last week when he torn his right ACL for the second time in nine months, while cornerback Jamar Taylor's challenge for a starting job has been interrupted while he recovers from a quadriceps injury.
Not to worry, safety Rashad Jones says.
"That's the beauty of this league, man," he says. "It's a next-guy-up mentality."
Miami is set with Jones, who declares himself the NFL's best safety, and with Pro Bowl cornerback Brent Grimes. But going into the third of four exhibition games Saturday against Atlanta, the other two jobs in the defensive backfield are up for grabs.
Newcomer Ndamukong Suh is sufficiently impressed by the secondary that he says the Dolphins' defense compares favorably with his 2014 team, the Detroit Lions.
"I think personally that we have more talent than we had in the No. 1 defense last year in Detroit," Suh says. "By that saying, you would say we should have the No. 1 defense this year. You don't know what's going to happen until the guys come together and understand what they're going to do."
And it's tough to make projections about the defense with so much uncertainty in the secondary.
Taylor, a second-round draft pick in 2013, was the front-runner to start at cornerback until he was hurt in Saturday's game at Carolina. It's unclear how long he'll be sidelined, but he sat out practice Wednesday.
That status is frustratingly familiar for Taylor. In his first two NFL seasons, he was slowed by hip, shoulder and hamstring injuries.
"Jamar can play great," Grimes says. "I've been saying that since he got here. He has just been dealing with nagging injuries. But when he gets a chance, he has showed he can play at this level."
Holdover Will Davis and veteran newcomers Brice McCain and Zack Bowman are also in the mix to line up opposite Grimes.
"Brent carries it all," Davis says, "but you're only as strong as your weakest link."
The competition to replace Delmas is between Michael Thomas, who has two starts in three NFL seasons, and Walt Aikens, who saw little action as a rookie last year.
"Michael Thomas and Walt Aikens will be ready," Jones says. "They have all the tools. They just have to put it to work."
Jones, a fifth-year starter known for his jarring hits, has yet to make a Pro Bowl but wins rave reviews from the Dolphins — including himself.
"I try to let my play speak for itself," Jones says. "But personally I think I'm the best safety in the league. The beauty of my game is I'm versatile. I can play strong safety or free safety, and I think that's huge, being interchangeable on the back end."
Even with Jones and Grimes, the pass defense was thoroughly mediocre last year. Miami tied for 14th in interceptions, tied for 16th in sacks, 17th in completion percentage, 18th in passer rating and 20th in yards per attempt.
The Dolphins obtained McCain and Bowman during the offseason, but the newcomer who might help their secondary the most is Suh, their $114 million defensive tackle. He upgrades the pass rush and provides a complement to Pro Bowl end Cameron Wake.
"That's huge bringing in a guy like Suh," Jones says. "The quicker those guys can get to the quarterback, the quicker the ball comes out of his hands and we can make plays."
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