What Miami Dolphins rookie Jevon Holland must do to fill Bobby McCain void

Joe Schad
Palm Beach Post

Dolphins rookie Jevon Holland is going to get every opportunity to replace released veteran Bobby McCain as starting free safety.

And Dolphins defensive backs coach Gerald Alexander is very clear about what Holland must do to successfully fill that role.

"He's got to know what to say, in what situations, and not just what to say, but also be loud and confident in his demeanor," Alexander said Tuesday. "That's in order for Jevon to take the command that we need him to take as a free safety."

The Dolphins selected Holland with the 36th pick in the last NFL Draft. Though he sat out last season for COVID-19 concerns, Alexander believes in the talents Holland demonstrated in two seasons at Oregon.

"As a freshman, he did some really good things as a deep safety, as a young guy thrown into the fire," Alexander said. "His willingness to tackle out in the middle of the field showed up. Natural athletic gifts. You can see a very versatile player."

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When Alexander was coaching at the University of California, he recruited Holland.

"Having a familiar background with his personality, you knew that he was that person that we wanted in our building," Holland said. "Our kind of guy."

But Holland chose Oregon over Cal. How could that happen?

"Oh my God, yeah. I was trying to recruit him, of course," quipped the gregarious Alexander. "I was trying to get him to do the stuff I want him to do now, at Cal. He had other plans. It worked itself out. Better late than never. You see the nice shiny toys that Oregon has? They've got uniforms. They've got buildings."

Assistant loves Jevon Holland's versatility, physical play

In moving on from McCain, the Dolphins let go a player who had made improvements in his transition from slot/nickel corner to deep safety. Ironically, Holland has also played slot/nickel corner as well as some strong safety. 

"He has been physical in the run game," Alexander said of Holland. "Make tackles in the open field. Been an underneath zone defender. Played some man to man. So when you evaluated his college tape, you're getting a guy like that who can be multiple, which we prioritize multiplicity in our defense."

Nov 23, 2019; Tempe, AZ, USA; Oregon Ducks safety Jevon Holland (8) against the Arizona State Sun Devils at Sun Devil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

McCain is 27, with six years of experience. He signed with Washington after the Dolphins let him go, mostly for salary cap reasons.

McCain was a team captain. He was an emotional and vocal leader. It's a lot to ask of Holland, who turned 21 in March, to fill that void. But he'll have to.

"You lose experience in relation to a rookie with Jevon," Alexander said, when asked about McCain. "We've got to get (Holland) up to speed in terms of some of those things that Bobby was able to do as a communicator. We appreciate the things (Bobby's) done. We know what we have now is a challenge to be able to get a young guy to communicate at that extreme level, in order to put our defense in great situations to be successful."

Is Holland up to the task?

"I think we're off to a great start with his demeanor and his energy in meetings," Alexander said.

In a recent meeting with reporters, Holland was over-the-top in his attempt to demonstrate humility. He is clearly focused. And although he basically said he has no idea what it takes to record an interception in the NFL right now, he'll be expected to do just that this season.

Holland is 6-foot-1, 200 pounds and covers 40 yards in 4.46 seconds. Holland had nine interceptions in two seasons at Oregon and was excellent in overall coverage.

Make no mistake, Holland will be expected to be an elite center fielder for the Dolphins' defense. But in order to reach his potential quickly, Alexander explained Holland must mentally master the entire defensive scheme.

"He's got to develop great understanding of what we're doing and what to say," Alexander said. "He's been doing a really good job of being attentive in meetings. And gathering all the information and things he's going to be responsible for. Because as a free safety in our defense, we need him to right the wrong and really know all other individual spots. And really know how the 11-piece puzzle on defense works."