In their dressing down of the Patriots, the Dolphins had the look of the team in midseason form.
It must seem that way to the medical staff, too.
Dolphins practice was a virtual MASH unit Tuesday, with eight players limited or absent during the portion open to the media. And that didn’t include starting linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, ruled out for the season Monday with a significant hip injury.
Of the eight linebackers on their active roster — a list that includes newly added Kelvin Sheppard — just five practiced, including Philip Wheeler, who missed Sunday’s game with a thumb injury.
Starting middle linebacker Koa Misi watched from the sidelines, with a boot on his ailing left ankle. (The Dolphins hope Misi can return in a week or two, depending on how fast he heals.)
Jordan Tripp is still out with a chest injury he sustained in the preseason finale. And the team’s newest star — Chris McCain — missed practice altogether. He had a double-whammy: He was both ill and dealing with a hip issue.
Where a coaching staff might see chaos, an unemployed Kelvin Sheppard saw opportunity. His agent got a call from the Dolphins shortly after the game ended Sunday — an indication of just how much they needed him.
“I don’t think I would have come here if I didn’t think there was opportunity for me,” said Sheppard, a veteran linebacker who has played for both the Bills and Colts.
In an ironic twist, Sheppard’s first game as a Dolphin will be against Buffalo, the team that drafted him. He’s nearly two years removed from that locker room but did have one insight: The Bills can run the ball quite effectively.
Miami doesn’t need a reminder. The Dolphins surrendered 293 yards rushing in two meetings with the Bills last year, and Buffalo hasn’t gotten any worse in that department.
In their 23-20 victory over the Bears Sunday, the Bills had three running backs with more than 50 yards: Fred Jackson, Anthony Dixon and C.J. Spiller.
Do they have the best group of running backs in football?
“I wouldn’t doubt it,” replied defensive end Jared Odrick.
Added Dolphins coach Joe Philbin: “They broke some big, explosive runs. This is going to be a game where we’re really going to have to do a great job tackling.”
That wasn’t a problem in the opener. As a team, the Dolphins missed six tackles — not great, but an improvement over 2013, when they missed an AFC East-worst 116.
And that was with a full complement of linebackers. By the second half Sunday, the Dolphins’ entire starting group was lost.
The Dolphins had to mix and match with a bunch of guys they had planned to use predominantly on special teams this year.
“It’s very important that they understand that they could be moved around at a moment’s notice,” Philbin said. “I thought overall they did a good job.”
Jason Trusnik and Jelani Jenkins did much of the heavy lifting after Misi and Ellerbe were injured, logging 67 and 59 snaps, respectively. McCain and Jonathan Freeny also saw action from scrimmage.
For Jenkins, a fourth-round pick in 2013, it was the most extensive action of his young career. He played both in base and sub packages, and did an excellent job of covering Shane Vereen and Rob Gronkowski — neither of whom had more than 40 receiving yards.
Philbin was a fan. “There was very little indecision on his part,” he said.
Jenkins knows he will need more of the same this Sunday against a team he has never beaten. The Bills swept the Dolphins in 2013.
“Every week, I prepare like I’m going to play, just in case that happens, so there’s no fall-off,” Jenkins said.