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Dolphins need Fletcher to start performing - ESPN - 6/18/2003


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Dolphins need Fletcher to start performing

By Darrell Trimble

NFL Insider

Wednesday, June 18

Updated: June 18

12:07 PM ET

When the Miami Dolphins chose Jamar Fletcher with the 26th overall pick in the 2001 draft, they expected the former Thorpe Award winner would team with the suffocating duo of Sam Madison and Patrick Surtain to give them the best trio of cornerbacks in the league.

Since then, they've been disappointed by Fletcher's lapses in judgment and his inconsistent play. Fletcher, though, is trying his best to improve his standing with the coaches and before this week's minicamp he approached the coaches about working in the slot on nickel packages, a responsibility held by Surtain last season.

So far, he seems to be excelling. Fletcher intercepted Griese for the second consecutive minicamp session Tuesday. Granted, Griese is just beginning to learn a new offense, but for the Dolphins anytime Fletcher makes a positive play it's time to rejoice.

"They said they wanted the corners to know everything, but they hadn't really come to me to learn the nickel," Fletcher told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. "I said, `If it's going to help the team, why not?' It's not hard to learn. I played it [Monday] and did pretty good. I just want to be able to play everything. It's still new to me."

It was not long ago that coach Dave Wannstedt said Terrell Buckley and Omare Lowe were the top candidates for the No. 3 cornerback slot. While Buckley is still the favorite, Fletcher has seemingly passed Lowe, whose play has tailed off recently.

The reason the Dolphins went out and got Buckley was because they were beginning to lose faith in Fletcher. The former Wisconsin Badger ended last season on a sour note. Miami lost their final two games to finish out of the playoffs for the first time in five seasons, and Flethcer played a significant role in both losses.

In Week 16 in Minnesota, he failed to get a good bump on Randy Moss at the line of scrimmage, which left Moss alone with safety Shawn Wooden. The play resulted in a 60-yard gain. Fletcher was also covering D'Wwayne Bates on a 13-yard touchdown reception that gave the Vikings the lead in the fourth quarter. The next week, in the season finale at New England the next week, Fletcher was called for a critical pass-interference penalty in the final five minutes.

However, his recent improvement bodes well for the defense. If Flethcer can nail down the job of playing inside, the Dolphins can keep Surtain matched predominantly against outside receivers in the nickel package.

Another reason Fletcher needs to step up is the situation with Sam Madison. The Pro Bowler, by his own admission, had a disappointing year in 2002. Madison is slated to make $5.3 million this season, and if he has a second consecutive down year, the team will have to think long and hard about his future. Madison is under contract through 2007 and his base salary will only continue to escalate.

If that happens, a rejuvenated Fletcher would make the team's decision a lot easier.

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