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Patterson setback pushes Carroll to forefront

With Dimitri Patterson's on-going groin issues -- he hasn't practiced this week -- the Dolphins seem poised to once again rely on Nolan Carroll as a starting cornerback, this time against the pass-happy New Orleans Saints Monday night.

Now, this is not really about Carroll. We'll get to him in a few grafs.

This is mostly about Patterson.

He has suffered a setback of some sort.

I remind you that after injurying his groin against Cleveland in the season-opener, he told The Herald he would be fine and play the following week against Indianapolis.

And although Patterson didn't practice except on a limited basis that week, he did indeed work every day and was active for the game. The reason he didn't play, coach Joe Philbin said, was because coaches decided not to use him.

Then last week Patterson practiced on a limited basis on Tuesday and Wednesday (as he'd done the week before) but then sat out drills altogether on Thursday and Friday and was pronounced out for the Atlanta game two days prior to the game.

That's not improvement.

In fact, I am told the setback came at that Wednesday practice that forced him out the remainder of the week.

And, again, Patterson has not practiced this week. He has not practiced at all since that fateful Wednesday.

And, I remind you, the Dolphins brought in half-a-dozen cornerbacks for workouts on Monday, which obviously speaks to the idea they believe they might need help at that position in the coming weeks.

The picture painted here is that Miami's starting cornerback is dealing with an injury that has already cost him two games, is likely going to cost him Monday night's game, and there is uncertainty beyond that.

That leads to Carroll.

He had a wonderful game against Cleveland. He was less effective against Indianapolis. And he struggled mightily against Atlanta, although against one of the best receivers in the NFL.

I love Carroll as a No. 3 or No. 4 cornerback. I don't love him as a starter. Neither, by the way, do the Dolphins. (There's a reason they drafted two cornerbacks in the draft's early rounds last April).

But as Carroll's the best Miami has right now, the team is definitely supporting Carroll and talking him up.

"I think he’s more consistent," coach Joe Philbin said Wednesday. "Obviously he made that one real, real nice play on the ball in the first game. I think it was the first drive of the first game. He’s a competitive guy. He’s very, very competitive. He comes out and works hard every single day.

"He’s certainly gotten better. His transitions gotten better. His coverage ability has improved I like the way he plays the game. He competes. You can put your head at night into a pillow and know that guy is going to give you everything he’s got."

I get it. Nolan Carroll's a competitive competitor competing in a competition.

But how good is he?

ProFootballFocus.com rates Carroll the 46th best cornerback among the 102 it has graded. (Brent Grimes, by the way, is rated No. 2).

Carroll has allowed 11 receptions in 21 targets this year -- a 52.4 completion percentage. Opposing teams average 13.6 yards per completion against him. He has given up 76 YAC (yards after catch), which is a big deal this week as the Saints lead the NFL in YAC since 2006.

That's not terrible. That's middle of the road.

The interesting thing is that Carroll hasn't been targeted more. The Browns couldn't really go after anyone outside and instead worked the tight ends vs. linebackers and safeties. The Colts didn't go after him, opting instead to go at Grimes with poor results. The Falcons didn't chase Carroll for nearly three quarters until they seemed to discover him in the fourth quarter.

But my experience tells me this train normally gains momentum once it starts rolling. Once a team sort of discovers a perceived weakness in another team, the next team goes after that weakness a bit more, then a bit more, then a lot more unless that weakness is addressed and the tide is turned back.

Obviously the Dolphins don't have a lot of options for turning back the tide as long as Patterson remains injured and rookies Jamar Taylor and Will Davis continue to need more practice and honing.

So perhaps they can hide Carroll a bit by having Grimes shadow the other team's best receiver throughout the game. The Dolphins have considered this in the past and Philbin doesn't dismiss the possibility.

"We’ve done some of that, and we’ll do whatever we think is in the best interest of our defense as a whole to stop the opponent," he said. "We certainly aren’t opposed to doing that stuff."