In between stretches early in practice Thursday, Dolphins defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle sidled up to new addition Brandon McDonald and exchanged a few quiet words.
“He was welcoming me here,” said McDonald, a 27-year-old corner claimed by the Dolphins late Wednesday. “I just said I’ll get in his playbook, try to learn things as quick as possible and see where it goes from here.”
If McDonald can stay on the field and out of the trainer’s room, it would be a good first step.
The decision late Wednesday to shut down ailing corner Richard Marshall for the season — he had surgery to repair his back Thursday in Los Angeles — left the Dolphins scrambling to add depth to a secondary already ranked 30th in pass defense.
They claimed cornerback Bryan McCann off waivers Tuesday, and added McDonald — who has started 31 games in seven NFL seasons — the following night.
“We’re kind of thin at that position, no question about it,” coach Joe Philbin said. “We’re looking to take a look at some guys to see, A. If they fit in; B. How well they fit in; and C. Are they quick learners? Can they adjust to the system? Can they make a contribution? It’s really no more than that.”
Fortunately for the Dolphins, they’re used to playing short-handed. Marshall missed the previous four games even before going on injured reserve, with Nolan Carroll starting in his place, and Jimmy Wilson filling in at nickel corner.
Statistically, it has made next to no difference to the Dolphins’ pass defense.
With Marshall in the lineup the first four weeks, the Dolphins surrendered 298 passing yards per game and six touchdowns through the air.
In the four games since, those numbers are 299 and four, respectively.
“It’s been intense in practice,” said Carroll, who already has started as many games in the season’s first eight games (four) as he did in his first two seasons combined. “Coaches have really been on us to make plays.”
But by putting Marshall on IR, the depth issues that began with the Vontae Davis trade in training camp will only get worse. Dolphins players said they can’t afford another injury to a key contributor.
Although there hasn’t been a noticeable drop-off in play from Marshall to Carroll, things get dicey when the Dolphins go to substitution packages. Opposing teams have a quarterback rating of 99.8 when throwing into Wilson’s coverage area, and last week, Andrew Luck connected on 8of 10 passes on Wilson for 99 yards.
“I think he’s played well,” Philbin said. “I don’t think our secondary played up to anybody’s expectation last week. Hopefully not their own. With that said, there’s definitely been progress, no doubt about it.”
Yet when Philbin was asked if the Dolphins planned on using Wilson at the nickel for the rest of the season, he simply responded: “As of right now.”
Miami’s front office was concerned enough about the position to consider Stanford Routt, a former second-round pick cut by two teams in the last year. The Dolphins called Routt’s agent this week, a league source said, but are not interested in signing him at this time.
They might do well to sit tight. Wilson has played better this year than Routt, according to Pro Football Focus, which grades every NFL snap.
Facing Wilson and the rest of the Dolphins’ secondary Sunday: Jake Locker. The Titans’ second-year quarterback has practiced all week after missing more than a month with an injury to his non-throwing shoulder.
Despite Locker’s inexperience, the Dolphins shouldn’t expect many gift turnovers. He has just two interceptions in 172 career passes, and a lifetime quarterback rating of 93.7. Plus, he’s mobile — bad news for defense that allowed Luck to avoid pressure and extend plays last Sunday.
“I don’t think we need to change nothing,” safety Reshad Jones said. “Just the next guy, with Richard being down, has to be ready.”
Miami Herald sportswriter Armando Salguero contributed to this report.