The man who will be barking out the calls for the Dolphins’ defense on Sunday not only never received any offers to play major-college football, he didn’t land any Division II offers, either.
“I didn’t think anything was going to work out with football,” said Trusnik, who attended Division III Ohio Northern and is certified to teach pre-kindergarten through third grade. “I thought I would get a good education and get a job.”
But something interesting happened along the way. He became a Division III All-American, was signed by the Jets as an undrafted free agent and eventually ended up with the Dolphins.
On Sunday at Buffalo, Trusnik and Jelani Jenkins again will be asked to increase their workload because of injuries to two starting linebackers.
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Starting strong-side linebacker Philip Wheeler, listed as probable on Friday’s injury report, said he expects to play in spite of a thumb injury.
But Trusnik is expected to fill in at middle linebacker for Koa Misi, who’s listed as doubtful with a sprained ankle, and Jenkins will replace weak-side linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, who’s out for the season with a hip injury. Also, rookie backup Jordan Tripp remains out with a bruised sternum.
Trusnik told coach Joe Philbin during the offseason that “he wanted to be thought of as more than just a special teams player,” Philbin said.
He has been consistently reliable, but his finest moment might have come Sunday, when he logged an astounding 90 snaps between defense and special teams.
“I was a little sore,” he said.
His growth as a linebacker has been “considerable,” Philbin said.
Trusnik has made 15 career starts, 10 of them with the Browns in 2009.
“Everybody wants to be a starter in the league,” he said.
What stand outs about Trusnik, according to linebackers coach Mark Duffner, is his competitiveness, toughness and how well he prepares.
“You are going to get everything he’s got from the bottom of his feet to the top of his head,” Duffner said. “He’s a physical player and over his career, he’s gotten to be a pretty instinctive player.”
Trusnik came to Miami in 2011 after spending two-and-a-quarter seasons with the Jets and then nearly two years with the Browns. In 2012, he signed a two-year, $2.1 million extension that runs through this season.
Jenkins, meanwhile, was at the opposite extreme as a prospect entering college. A track star in high school in Olney, Maryland, Jenkins was both a Parade All-American and the nation’s No.1 linebacker prospect when he entered UF.
When former general manager Jeff Ireland drafted Jenkins in the fourth round in 2013, he envisioned a player who could be an asset in pass coverage on third down, potentially more. Jenkins flashed those skills Sunday, when he stuck closely to the Patriots tight ends and running backs.
But Jenkins, the Dolphins’ shortest linebacker at six feet, must demonstrate an ability to hold up consistently against the run.
“As a linebacker, you want to be effective on all downs, and that’s one thing I’ve had to prove,” he said. “I think my [run defense] has improved.”
The Dolphins also might need to use newcomer Kelvin Sheppard, who graded out significantly below average against the run in Pro Football Focus ratings the past two NFL seasons (for the Bills in 2012 and Colts in 2013) but was very good against the run as a rookie for Buffalo in 2011 after being drafted in the third round from LSU. He has allowed 39 of 50 passes thrown against him to be completed in his career.
“I’m a very physical linebacker,” he said. “This offseason, I worked my butt off on my third-down coverage.”
One wild card in the equation is Chris McCain, who came to the Dolphins as a linebacker but played mostly defensive end in the opener, when he collected a sack in 15 defensive snaps. He missed two days of practice this week because of illness but is probable for Sunday.
The Dolphins’ linebackers will be tested against a Buffalo team that ran for 193 yards against Chicago last Sunday and had the NFL’s second-best rushing attack in 2013.
Buffalo’s passing offense was 28th a year ago.
In addition to the linebacker injuries, the Dolphins listed center Mike Pouncey (hip) and defensive end Terrence Fede (knee) as out, guard Billy Turner (foot) as doubtful and several others as probable: running back Knowshon Moreno (shoulder), receiver Mike Wallace (hamstring), defensive tackle Randy Starks (toe), tight end Charles Clay (knee), defensive end Derrick Shelby (knee), tight end Dion Sims (neck) and safety Walt Aikens (hand).
Linebacker Keith Rivers (groin) is out for Buffalo.