Cortland Finnegan aiming to regain edge

July, 9, 2014
Jul 9
12:00
PM ET
DAVIE, Fla. -- New Miami Dolphins cornerback Cortland Finnegan stayed on the field for more than 20 minutes after the conclusion of a June practice. While other players were seeking refuge from the sweltering South Florida heat, Finnegan gave a lively tutorial to second-year cornerbacks Jamar Taylor and Will Davis on the nuances of press coverage.

"We're all trying to get better," Finnegan said afterward. "You're only as good as our second string and third string, and those guys are one play away from being in the game. So any time we can get them up to speed on everybody's level, I think it builds for a better football team."

In many ways, Finnegan can relate to Taylor and Davis. Finnegan, 30, says he feels like a young player trying to prove himself all over again. He has reached a crossroads in his career where he must show the Dolphins and the rest of the NFL that he still has good football ahead of him.

[+] EnlargeCortland Finnegan
Robert Mayer/USA TODAY SportsMiami's coach appreciates the way Cortland Finnegan has interacted with the team's young players.
It wasn't long ago that Finnegan was viewed as one of the best and most physical cornerbacks in the league. After six years with the Tennessee Titans, he signed a five-year, $50 million contract with the St. Louis Rams in 2012 -- and things gradually went downhill from there. The Rams released him after his injury-plagued 2013 season.

The Dolphins showed faith in Finnegan by signing him to a two-year, $11 million contract. The early reports from Miami coaches have been positive that Finnegan could be due for a bounce-back season.

"I love the way, first and foremost, that he's fit into the chemistry of the defense," Dolphins coach Joe Philbin explained. "He's a very passionate player. He's a guy that comes to work every single day with purpose. He practices hard every day. He spends a lot of time with our younger guys.

"He's got experience, he's got a history of production in this league. But now, at the stage of his career, it's also about kind of showing a great example for younger players to follow. That's another part I really liked, and I think he's caught on to the system well."

When Finnegan was at his best, he was an agitator. He was scrappy, got under opponents' skin and never backed down. (Simply search YouTube for his battles with Houston Texans receiver Andre Johnson). Finnegan, who played in the Pro Bowl after the 2008 season, was the type of player you loved to have on your team but hated to play against.

Somewhere along the way, things changed for Finnegan. NFL fines and penalties began to add up, and Finnegan altered his game. He acknowledged this offseason that some opponents felt he was a "jerk" on the football field and that it might be time to embrace that part of his game again -- but within reason.

"I play with an edge, and I've learned to control that throughout the years if you've looked with the fines going down," Finnegan explained earlier this offseason. "At the same time, I want to bring that same tenacity and spunk and everything that I had, that maybe I was missing. I know a lot of people say maybe there was something missing -- maybe that's what it was.

"You always want to play within the confines of the game, but at the same time you have to be you. You don't want to hurt the team, but also you want to play with the same edge that got you where you're at."

Injuries also were an issue for Finnegan last season in St. Louis, as hamstring and eye problems kept him out of nine games. Even the Dolphins this offseason managed Finnegan's reps in an effort to keep him fresh for the regular season. Finnegan did not participate in Miami's minicamp or team scrimmage.

ESPN.com NFL analyst Matt Williamson isn't convinced Finnegan will regain the form he showed in Tennessee.

"I think he has really declined since his Titans days," Williamson said. "But he's tough, smart and should provide great leadership to young Dolphins corners. He's best in the slot now."

The Dolphins, however, hope to strike gold again at cornerback.

A year ago, Miami signed Brent Grimes to a team-friendly, one-year contract. Grimes had suffered a torn Achilles tendon the previous season as a member of the Atlanta Falcons, and the Dolphins were unsure how quickly he could bounce back -- but he had arguably the best year of his career and made his second Pro Bowl. Miami, in turn, signed Grimes to a four-year, $32 million extension this offseason.

Finnegan has an opportunity to take the same path in Miami. Although he and Grimes are the same age, Finnegan has sought out advice from his new teammate.

"[I'm] just trying to see what he can tell me, as far as some things to work on," Finnegan said. "I think just jelling that way has been big for us. We're going to feed off of one another because he's a Pro Bowl player and I definitely want to get to his level again."

James Walker | email

ESPN Miami Dolphins reporter

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