Each time Dion Jordan takes the field, he learns something new.
His hard-knocks lesson from last Sunday’s game: finish the play.
Jordan, the gifted pass-rusher selected third in April’s draft, had a clear run at Colts quarterback Andrew Luck on third-and-long. But instead of planting Luck on his backside, he barely touched him, allowing Luck to scramble for a drive-extending first down.
“I let up,” Jordan acknowledged this week. “I thought [the ball] was gone. I just missed it. I missed a big play.”
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Luckily for Jordan, he should have plenty of chances to get it right this Sunday against Atlanta.
His snaps, severely limited against Indianapolis, are expected to go up – perhaps substantially – when the Dolphins host the Falcons.
Jordan was on the field for just seven defensive plays in the win against the Colts. But two factors would suggest Jordan’s role will increase: 1. Defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle basically said as much on Monday; 2. Starting defensive end Olivier Vernon has been largely a non-factor through two games.
According to Pro Football Focus, Vernon has been the worst 4-3 defensive end in football thus far. He has missed twice as many tackles as he has made, and has hurried the quarterback just four times in 88 pass-rushing opportunities.
Jordan hasn’t been appreciably better. His lone NFL sack comes with an asterisk; he got flagged for a 15-yard face-mask penalty while tackling Brandon Weeden. Still, his upside is far greater.
THE SHELBY FACTOR
The most productive defensive end opposite Cameron Wake, surprisingly, has been the player few have talked about: Derrick Shelby, the second-year reserve. Shelby made the team in 2012 as an undrafted rookie, and despite getting just a fraction Vernon’s snaps, has had a far greater impact.
He has a strip sack in each the first two games, plus a quarterback hit. A source indicated Shelby likely will take some snaps and rotations away from Vernon in Week 3.
Despite his play, Vernon has an important ally: Dolphins coach Joe Philbin, who disagreed with the premise that former Miami Hurricane is struggling.
“He’s been very sound at the point of attack, and the run game I think he’s held his gap well, he hasn’t been displaced an awful lot,” Philbin said. “I think he’s gotten some good pressure on the quarterback. The numbers haven’t maybe been there quite yet, but I’m confident they will.”
How much of that is a coach trying to buoy the confidence of his player remains to be seen. But in the long run, the Dolphins have compelling reasons to get Jordan on the field – not the least of which is his four-year, $20.5 million contract.
BACK FROM INJURY
The competition for starting defensive end fizzled out before it ever began, as Jordan re-aggravated a nagging shoulder injury during the preseason.
On Sunday, he’ll appear before a Dolphins home crowd for the first time, in both the regular and exhibition seasons.
But the injury issue seems largely behind him; Jordan practiced without limitation Wednesday (the team was off Thursday).
Now, he can concentrate on learning how to be an every-down defensive end. Jordan was a stand-up 4-3 linebacker in college, and at 250 pounds, is far smaller than the offensive tackles he goes against.
While most high draft picks expect to play right away, Jordan isn’t making a fuss about his small role.
“I’ve got to be more attentive to detail, pay attention to the smaller things,” Jordan said. “I feel like that’s what a lot of these guys out there have done to make sure they can play three downs.
“I’ve got to play relentless, understand it’s only going to come with the way I work on the field throughout the week, and prove to my coach that I’m deserving of that spot,” he added.