DAVIE, Fla. -- The No. 28 on the back of Nolan Carroll's jersey might as well be a bull's-eye.
This Dolphins cornerback knows opposing quarterbacks look at him as the replacement corner, the injury fill-in, the sub package guy and, ultimately, the weak link in the Dolphins' secondary.
He knows offensive coordinators plan to match up their best receiver against him each game.
In the season opener, Carroll was lining up against speedy former Hurricanes standout Travis Benjamin. Week 2 it was perennial Pro Bowler Reggie Wayne. Last week, it was Julio Jones, one of the NFL's budding superstars.
Safe money says New Orleans will give Carroll a steady diet of Marques Colston, whose 546 catches for 7,596 yards and 59 touchdowns makes him the Saints' all-time leading receiver.
"I don't care. I'm not paying attention to that at all. Doesn't matter to me," said Carroll, the son of former Florida Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll.
Growing up the child of a politician clearly helped him develop thick skin, and at this point in his NFL career Carroll is an armadillo.
"I'm out there competing," Carroll said. "Think what you want about me, doesn't matter!"
What matters to Carroll is that he's consistently been called on to contribute on defense for two different Dolphins coaching staffs. No matter whom the franchise has drafted, claimed or signed as a free agent to replace him, Carroll's still earned his playing time.
He's still standing, still starting, still making plays, like the interception he produced in the season-opening win over the Browns, which saved a touchdown.
"He's had a number of starts since he's been here, but he's stepped up against good receivers and good receiving corps and has done a fine job," defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle said.
Opposing quarterbacks have a 68.7 passer rating against the Dolphins, which is fifth best in the league. And Carroll's 21 targets leads the Dolphins. Only 14 cornerbacks have been thrown at more.
Keep in mind Carroll views himself as a young cornerback. While he played in 38 games with the Maryland Terrapins, most of them were as a special teams contributor. He was recruited to Maryland as a receiver, moved to cornerback his sophomore season and only started six games as a cornerback in college.
He's started 16 games for the Dolphins since Miami drafted him in the fifth round of the 2010 draft.
"Me just playing cornerback for the little amount of time I have, I've learned a lot the past three years. Every year has been a learning experience as far as situations, how to prepare for a game, who I'm going against. How to keep my body right every week," Carroll said. "Every year there has been something new."
Considering Dimitri Patterson's groin injury has regressed, it appears Carroll will remain the Dolphins starter for the foreseeable future.
"I think he's more consistent," Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said. "He's a competitive guy. ... He comes out and works hard every single day. He's certainly gotten better. His transitions (have) 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."
Entering last week's game against the Falcons, Carroll was rated by ProFootballFocus.com as the fifth-best cornerback in the NFL.
The Falcons threw just two passes at Brent Grimes and attacked Carroll with Julio Jones, whom the Dolphins allowed Carroll to cover without much help. Jones caught five passes for 70 yards with Carroll on him.
So far this season, receivers have caught 11 of 21 passes thrown to the receiver he's defending. He hasn't allowed a touchdown and opposing quarterbacks have a 55.7 quarterback rating throwing his way. Only 12 cornerbacks, including Grimes, have given up a lower rating, which is proof he's getting better.
But Carroll knows that won't stop opponents from coming after him.
"Our coach tells us when you're out there be the guy who expects the ball to come to you. He tells all the corners that. That's how I approach it," Carroll said. "Every time I'm out there I feel like the ball is coming to me."
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