Baby steps were allowed -- and necessary.
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"Last year, when I first got here, I didn't understand a whole lot of stuff," Clemons said. "From the scheme, to the terminology. They took me up under their wing and helped me grow."
Clemons is referring to veterans like Yeremiah Bell, Will Allen and Tyrone Culver. Each member of the Dolphins' secondary held his hand during his rookie year, allowing the free safety to mature at a reasonable rate.
While Clemons played a little last season, contributing 13 tackles, not much was expected of him. But those days are long gone. This season the training wheels must come off.
Gibril Wilson's erratic and error-prone play in 2009 got him released. Then the Dolphins struck out in their attempts to signing veteran starting safeties Antrel Rolle and Ryan Clark.
After watching Clemons make significant progress during the offseason the team's decision makers decides to stay in-house, opting to develop Clemons with the hope he'll blossom into a solid starting free safety. It's a gamble, but the Dolphins are optimistic they'll get a favorable return.
"I feel like I've grown a lot," said Clemons, who according to coach Tony Sparano entered this week making just one mental error during training camp's practices. "When we were at OTAs we were just putting the system in. Now I feel like I have a handle on it. It's a different defense but some of the stuff is the same concepts I've been familiar with, just different terminology."
To speed up Clemons' learning curve the coaches are giving him a double dose of practice repetitions. He's the only player on the team who is working with the starters and with the third-team defense. As a result, Clemons has taken more practice snaps than anyone on the roster.
"Chris needs reps," said secondary coach Todd Bowles. "He sees things and retains everything very well. It's just a matter of experience. The more he's out there the more comfortable he gets, and the more vocal he'll get."
Clemons would have secured the starting free safety job with a clean performance in the exhibition opener against Tampa Bay. But that didn't happen.
"He missed one tackle, which was clear. He missed a tackle on the quarterback in a third down situation," Sparano said, referring to quarterback Josh Johnson's 18-yard run on third-and-16. Clemons didn't square up on Johnson and tried to arm tackle him, failing to force a punt.
Since Clemons' tackling was an issue last season, Saturday's performances raised some red flags.
"Those are the ones that you want to make," Sparano continued. "I've seen the kid make three or four other ones during the course of the game, made one on special teams. I'm not telling you that it's not something I'm not worried about. I want him to make those plays in those situations…..We're going to need to see him make that play."
Until he does, the door remains slightly ajar for rookie Reshad Jones, who is also a fifth-round pick, to close the gap.
"I missed a key tackle on third down and I know I'm suppose to get that. I know I can't let that happen again," said Clemons, who made four tackles in Saturday's 10-7 win over the Buccaneers. "I've got to work on my open field tackling, break down a little better, wrap up.
"We did pretty good on defense, but we've got to do a whole lot of things better," Clemons said. "We can play better than that, and I know it starts with me."