The Dolphins did not get a bye in 2017.
Instead, they are getting a second free agency.
Safety T.J. McDonald and guard Ted Larsen are both set to make their Dolphins debut Monday, providing a much-needed talent infusion into two of the Dolphins’ most banged-up position groups.
McDonald, suspended the first half of the season, is expected to start at safety. Larsen, who spent eight weeks on injured reserve with a torn biceps muscle, seems on pace to start at left guard.
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And their return could not come at a better time for the Dolphins, who have lost safety Nate Allen for the year with a calf injury and could lose right tackle Ja’Wuan James for the same with a worrisome leg issue.
“I think [McDonald] can help us tremendously,” Dolphins coach Adam Gase said. “I think with his presence back there, with a guy with his size, his speed, his range and his football knowledge, I think that only helps us.”
Gase, speaking early in the day Thursday, was a little more cautious about Larsen’s availability for Monday, saying the staff needed to see how he held up.
But Larsen said his first contact practice since getting hurt in August “was definitely a good day.”
Larsen and McDonald signed as free agents back in March, and both would have started Week 1 in an ideal world. But Larsen needed surgery after hurting his arm the same day Ryan Tannehill tore his ACL, and went on injured reserve with the designation to return.
McDonald’s absence was no such surprise. The Dolphins knew he would miss the first eight games when they signed him. The league suspended McDonald after he crashed his car while driving under the influence of prescription drugs, and so his free-agent options were limited.
Along with the league’s punishment, McDonald also has to meet a number of court-mandated conditions to avoid a tougher sentence; McDonald said he is “in the process” of fulfilling all of those obligations.
“It’s been humbling,” McDonald said. “It’s been tough to sit back and watch, but I’ve been doing what I can to be here for my teammates. It definitely made me appreciate the game. I’ve done everything I can to get back right, and I keep being around this building, being around these guys. They kept me going, kept me pushing.”
McDonald was allowed to attend meetings and work out in the team complex during his suspension, but was not allowed to play or practice until this week. Watching on Sundays, he said, was the hardest part.
“It’s weird, especially when you’re healthy, and you think you can go out there and help,” McDonald said.
Back to the offensive line: The Dolphins are spending this week not just gauging Larsen’s readiness, but also trying to identify the five best linemen to start Monday in Carolina.
James, by all appearances, is not going to be available. While the Dolphins listed his issue as a hamstring injury, it is more complicated than that.
“I don’t have all of the information,” Gase said. “We’re still meeting with doctors. He’s kind of getting some second opinions and things like that to make sure that whatever we decide to do this year, if it’s long term or short term. We just need to figure all that out.”
With James out, a likely scenario is sliding Jesse Davis to right tackle and plugging Larsen into Davis’ spot at left guard. Larsen practiced without limitation Thursday.
“Excited more than anxious,” Larsen said, when asked about his emotions. “Once you reach a certain age, you love playing. That’s why you keep playing. To be able to do that, I’m excited to get back on the field.”