Joe Philbin doesn’t often show frustration and anger, so when he did, ever so slightly, in the basement of the Georgia Dome on Friday night, it left an impression.
But Philbin wasn’t so much steamed about the Dolphins’ preseason loss to the Falcons as he was miffed about news that broke a few hours earlier.
Reshad Jones, the Dolphins’ high-priced safety, will miss the first four games of the season after failing a drug test. Jones took a banned performance-enhancing substance, the league determined.
He is Miami’s second significant defensive player to test positive this summer; Dion Jordan received his own four-game ban in July for a similar offense.
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Philbin now must prepare for Tom Brady and the Patriots in the Sept. 7 opener without a full arsenal of defensive options. And he doesn’t seem too pleased about it — probably because he has warned his team time and again against putting anything illicit in their bodies.
“We’ve addressed it; we continually address it, often, multiple times a year,” Philbin said. “… The NFL has strict policies. And if you don’t adhere to the policies, you have to face the consequences. It’s pretty simple.”
When asked why that message had apparently not gotten through, Philbin responded: “I think those guys exercised poor judgment. Everybody’s accountable for their own actions.”
Making matters worse for the Dolphins, that accountability doesn’t occur in a vacuum. The team as a whole is hurt by the choices of a few.
By losing Jordan for four games, the Dolphins will probably rely on Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon more than they might prefer. The hope was to have a four-man rotation at defensive end to keep everyone fresh.
But that’s minor compared to the loss of Jones. He has started every game the past two years. The versatile Jimmy Wilson is the most likely player to replace him, a move that would have countless ripple effects.
Wilson blossomed as a nickel corner last year, but with a full-time move to safety, the Dolphins will have to rely on one of their young corners to fill that role. Jamar Taylor, a second-round pick last year who has had a strong camp, is the most likely candidate.
These moves also would likely force the Dolphins to recalibrate their plans on special teams. But Miami is now frighteningly thin at safety, and using Wilson on kick coverage would be risky.
The Dolphins might have telegraphed their thinking on this front Friday. Wilson was on the field for 22 plays — but none on special teams. By way of comparison, he had 15 special-teams snaps in the 2013 season finale against the Jets.
Wilson wouldn’t come out and say he’s the starting safety-in-waiting Friday. But he didn’t exactly say he wasn’t, either.
When asked if he would be comfortable being an every-down player, Wilson responded: “Yeah, I would hope so. That’s what I’ve been practicing for. But at the same time, we need Reshad as soon as he can come back. He’s a great player in this league. I think you all have seen that. He’s a Pro Bowl-caliber player. We’re going to miss him for four games, but I know he’s going to hit the ground running.”
For his part, Jones appears remorseful for letting the organization down.
He apologized to owner Stephen Ross twice Friday — once in a team-distributed statement, and again to reporters after the Falcons game.
“I take full responsibility for my actions, and I’ll continue to stay in shape, do anything in my power to help this team win ballgames,” said Jones, who signed a $30 million contract extension last year. “I’m going to come back stronger than ever.”
In the meantime, however, he leaves a defense that was far from dominant Friday night at risk. The Dolphins had both trouble tackling and breakdowns in the secondary — and that was with Jordan and Jones in uniform.
“It’s tough,” Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill said. “Anytime you lose guys, especially guys of that caliber, it’s tough on the team, but it’s part of it. It’s something you never want to have happen, but it happens with injuries, suspensions. It can happen a lot of different ways. You’re going to have to face that adversity, guys are going to have to step up, and fill in their place.”