Just six weeks ago, Marlon Moore was a situational player, Rishard Matthews saw the field only on special teams and Armon Binns was a member of the Cincinnati Bengals.
On Sunday, they could be the Dolphins’ top three threats at wide receiver.
That’s because Brian Hartline joined fellow starter Davone Bess on the mend Wednesday. Each is hampered by a back injury, and neither practiced at all, imperiling their availability for Sunday’s must-win home game against Buffalo.
Combined, the wideouts account for 58 percent of the Dolphins’ 2012 receiving yards, and Hartline is the newest member of the 1,000-yard club. He cracked the millennium mark Sunday against Jacksonville.
But he also limped off the field in the fourth quarter of the Jaguars win after hurting his back and did not return. Hartline practiced on a limited basis Wednesday but wasn’t on the field Thursday and didn’t appear in the locker room during player availability.
Based on the way their teammates talked about Bess and Hartline on Thursday afternoon, don’t expect to see them play Sunday.
“I’m quite sure we’re going to come in with the same mind-set as if Hartline and DB were there, and that’s attack,” Moore said.
“It’s definitely going to change a little bit, because Davone and Hartline are crucial parts to this offense,” Moore added, when asked about the game plan. “Some of the things that they do are staples in this offense. We have to make sure we pick it up for them, no slack, no drop-off.”
Even Joe Philbin, the Dolphins’ coach who’s usually loathe to discuss anything injury-related, acknowledged that the team’s mounting issues will alter the team’s approach Sunday, at least to some degree.
“Hopefully in coaching, you utilize the talents and the skill level and put guys in position to be successful, based on what you have in that particular game,” Philbin said.
“That being said, it’s Week 16 of the NFL season. We’re not going to invent a whole new offense.”
If neither can play, the Dolphins will have no choice but to go with what has to be among the least-accomplished groups to ever suit up for a Week 16 game.
Combined, Moore, Matthews and Binns have just six career starts and 36 lifetime catches to their credit. According to Pro Football Focus, Moore ranks 82nd, Matthews 150th and Binns 196th out of the 202 NFL players to line up at receiver this year.
“In this business, your light always has to be on,” Binns said. “You’ve got to be ready to go when your number is called.
“The numbers are not in our favor right now, so guys have to step up and make plays for this team.”
Although Moore and Matthews have been with the Dolphins all season, Binns arrived in town just last week. He spent the season’s first three months with the Bengals, and even started for Cincinnati in the Dolphins’ road win in October, but ultimately fell out of favor.
Eventually, the Bengals released him, and the Dolphins claimed him off waivers soon thereafter.
Binns has stayed late after practice since arriving, huddling with coaches to make sure he masters the offense’s at-the-line signals. He believes he’s up to speed in the playbook and can play any of the three receiver positions.
And at 6-3, 210 pounds, Binns is the biggest receiver on the Dolphins roster.
“He’s kind of different than the guys that we have,” Philbin said.
“He’s got good length and has caught onto the offense relatively quickly. Looks like he has a good competitive nature to him. We like what we see so far.”
Short of a late-week recovery by Bess and Hartline, Philbin will be seeing a lot more of all three Sunday.
Her funeral is Friday, and the Dolphins have sent flowers in her memory.
“It just came to our attention that one of the individuals, one of the victims up there, was an avid Dolphin fan, and we just thought it would be the right thing to do,” Philbin said.