Cornerback is currently one of the biggest needs on the Dolphins roster, and unless Miami invests a first-round pick in the upcoming draft into that position, that doesn't appear likely to change anytime soon.
But while Miami looks just about everywhere for a possible solution at corner from the outside, a certain young player has been working towards possibly becoming the answer the Dolphins have been looking for, and right in their own backyard. This player's name is Tony Lippett.
Lippett, who was drafted by the Dolphins out of Michigan State in the fifth-round of the 2015 NFL draft, spent his rookie year not only fighting through the normal transition period that comes from making the jump from college to the pros, but he also had to make the transition from being a full-time wide receiver to a full-time corner.
“I feel more comfortable with the position,” Lippett said after the first day of veteran's mini-camp. “Going through what I went through last year as far as learning some coaches and the players who were on the team and just going through practicing, basically just trying to get better every day. I feel like now I’m just going to continue to do that and just continue to grind the days out and at the end of the day just work on the little things I need to work on.”
Lippett showed excellent promise in his rookie year, appearing in nine games where he made 13 tackles and deflected a pass. Standing at 6'2" and 200 pounds, Lippett also fits the mold of cornerback that Miami appears to be trying to utilize: bigger, longer and rangier than in years past.
Naturally, his making a position change means he's still a raw prospect, and he was drafted by the Dolphins with the presumed intention of making him a long-term project. But during Tuesday's mini-camp, the young Michigan State alumni found himself lining up opposite cornerback Byron Maxwell, who by default is currently Miami's number one boundary man.
That made Lippett - at least for that practice period - the number two corner.
“I feel like it’s a good thing,” Lippett said, “But I’ve got to continue to grind and continue to learn the system, grow within the system, grow within the team and just try to make plays the best way I can.”
He'll have a new system to learn now that Vance Joseph is the defensive coordinator as opposed to Kevin Coyle or Lou Anarumo, and he's going to have competition as there six other corners on the team who'll be fighting for the other starting spot alongside Maxwell. Lippett is looking forward to that battle.
“Competition is good,” he said. “Competition brings the best out of each and every player. We’re all going to compete against each other in there, but we’re all going to help each other out as well. I feel like it’s always good having competition. You can never go wrong with competing."
One of those competitors will be former second-round draft pick Jamar Taylor, who has struggled in years past and will be looking to redeem himself in a new scheme with a new coaching staff. According to head coach Adam Gase, Taylor - along with every other player on the roster - will be getting a chance to do just that.
“He’s no different than every other guy." Gase said of Taylor. "When we had our first team meeting, the statement was, ‘It didn’t matter who you were before this.’ You’re getting a fresh start. Everybody’s walking in the building (with a) clean slate. So if you were lazy and didn’t try hard last year, you could be the hardest-working guy walking through the door and I won’t know any different. We’re encouraging guys to just come out here and give us everything they have and see how it shakes out for them."
With everyone getting a fresh start, that also means everyone is on equal footing as the offseason programs begin. There are very few instant favorites, there are no biases towards certain players, and that means Lippett will get a good chance to show that he's learned what it means to be an NFL cornerback, and it may even translate to a starting job if he can show what he's learned on the field.
“I feel like I had a decent offseason where I could focus on corner and not focus on wide receiver, if I’m going to play wide receiver, if I’m going to play corner." Lippett said. "I feel like I got to pay a little bit more attention to the corner scheme and the corner technique and things like that. I feel like I’m a step ahead of where I was last year in that department.
“What I’m trying to do is just control what I can control and just trying to make plays to the best of my ability and just continue to learn the system, the ins and outs of playing corner.”
Obviously the expectations shouldn't be placed too high for the young receiver turned corner, but if he keeps grinding away, and learning the position he's been placed at, he may just become the successful project that the Dolphins have been aiming for.
So far, everything seems to be going well.
This story was written by Luis Sung. Follow him on Twitter: @FLSportDebater
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