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Dolphins draw deep breath with rookie CBs

10/26/2009

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

With top cornerback Will Allen gone for the rest of the season with a knee injury, the Miami Dolphins will line up two rookies at a critical defensive position.

First-round draft choice Vontae Davis will replace Allen. Second-round pick Sean Smith has started at right cornerback all season.

When asked if Davis and Smith were ready to handle the job for the remaining 10 regular-season games, Dolphins coach Tony Sparano sounded apprehensive.

"I'll be honest with you: I don't know the answer to that question," Sparano said a day after blowing a 21-point lead and losing to the New Orleans Saints. "They need to mature really fast. I don't know. I don't really know if they're equipped for 10 games in a row of doing full-time duty without having Will Allen out there."

"But I would say this: They’re both in good shape, and they're both smart players, don’t have a lot of mental errors. They both like football. They like to compete."

The problem, however, isn't necessarily physical. Rookies are coping with the NFL grind for the first time.

"These guys are playing at pretty good levels," Sparano said. "You're asking me for the long haul, and I'm saying that sometimes some of these young guys are ready to check out around Thanksgiving.

"We need to do a great job with these two guys of really refocusing and understanding that we do have 10 of these left. It is going to be a long haul."

The only other cornerbacks on the active roster are nickel back Nate Jones and Jason Allen, who barely made the team this year despite being the 16th overall draft choice in 2006. Jason Allen has started 11 games in his four NFL seasons, with nine coming at safety the year the Dolphins went 1-15.

The Dolphins rank 19th in pass defense, giving up an average of 233.5 yards a game. But opponents have thrown for just seven touchdowns against them. Only six teams have allowed fewer.

Davis and Smith will have a few difficult tests down the homestretch. They'll have to defend Tom Brady and Randy Moss twice, Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson and Ben Roethlisberger and Hines Ward.

The schedule is soft in spots, too. The Dolphins still have a pair of winless teams -- the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Tennessee Titans -- and the Buffalo Bills, Carolina Panthers and Jacksonville Jaguars.