The transition would be much more difficult had Dolphins defensive back Jimmy Wilson been unprepared.
He's prepped for this moment since being drafted in 2011. The objective when entering the NFL was to learn as many positions as possible in the defensive secondary.
So consider Wilson anything but a newbie when he begins his first season as the starting free safety. He landed the role once it was learned Reshad Jones would miss the opening four games because of a suspension for using performance-enhancing drugs.
"It's been beneficial for me because I've been able to learn what I've got to do at corner, what I've got to do at nickel, what I've got to do at safety," Wilson said. "When I'm on the field, I know where everybody is supposed to be."
Wilson spent the last few years playing mostly at nickel. He is the Dolphins best option to start alongside Louis Delmas until Jones returns. Even with his knowledge of the system, that's not to say the move has gone entirely smooth.
Wilson badly missed a tackle on Tampa Bay Buccaneers receiver Mike Evans in last week's preseason game. The positive was cornerback Brent Grimes chased down Evans at the goal line and forced a fumble. Still, the coaching staff needs more with Wilson as the last line of defense because he won't always have a safety net.
"That's not how we tackle — throwing your shoulder into a guy and turning when you should be having your chin up, wrapping your arms and accelerating your feet," Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said. "That's not good enough. You can't tackle that way."
The biggest adjustment for Wilson is realizing he will lack a backup on most defensive plays. His last experience at free safety was a four-game stretch during his senior season at the University of Montana.
"I've been in the defense the last couple of years," Wilson said. "I've just got to stay on my keys and be patient back there. … When you're on the back end, there's nobody there to recover for me. I've got to have more discipline in my play."
That process began after the struggles in Tampa. Wilson said he is making a stronger effort to listen to coaches during film sessions instead of relying on ability.
"You just got to know your depth and just the angles coming out of center field," Wilson said. "That's one thing I've been working on the last couple weeks, just making sure my angels are tight."
The Dolphins are confident Wilson can handle the transition. They have no choice but to think positive considering the options are so limited behind him.
"I see a guy like Jimmy who's been here, he's made a lot of plays on the field," defensive end Cam Wake said. "I know he's ready. I'm not looking for any kind of lapse or [decline] when he's on the field. He's shown that over the time he's been here."
Wilson has benefited most from his strong friendship with Jones. The two are so close their families spend time together and attend the same church. It has made it easier for Wilson to contact Jones for advice about the position.
At any hour of the day.
"We've been here together a long time," Wilson said. "We're comfortable with each other and we can come to each other … He's a guy I can call, text, whatever, at any time and he can do the same with me."
If Wilson serves as a solid replacement, he hopes it can lead to a full-time move to safety. He thinks of it as his "natural" position. The constant moving has prevented him from specializing in one area.
"That's what you're looking to do as a professional," Wilson said. "… But I'll do whatever the team needs, whatever is going to make our team better. I'm trying to hold [Jones'] slot while he's gone. If I have to go back, I'll do whatever is best for my team."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun