The battle for the Dolphins’ third starting linebacker job comes down to one player who has 32 career regular-season starts (Kelvin Sheppard) and another (Chris McCain) who has played just 46 defensive snaps in his young career.
One day after McCain worked with the first team at strong-side linebacker alongside Jelani Jenkins and Koa Misi, it was Sheppard who got first-team work Friday, lining up at middle linebacker and flanked by Jenkins and Misi.
Sheppard started 24 games for Buffalo over 2011 and 2012 and seven times for Indianapolis in 2013 before playing mostly as a reserve for Miami last season.
Asked if he expects to be a starter, Sheppard said: “I do expect that of myself.”
He believes he has a lot to offer.
“A lot of guys rally around me,” Sheppard said. “They feel like I’m a leader on this team. I’m here to have a real impact. Last year, I was getting my feet wet coming in late.”
Coach Joe Philbin said Sheppard “has got an excellent grasp of the defensive scheme. Seems to be a good communicator out there. We want to provide an opportunity to see if he’s the best guy.”
McCain, who said starting isn’t necessarily important to him, is also getting work at defensive end, in suspended Dion Jordan’s former role, but said the workload isn’t excessive.
“I’m pretty cool at defensive end. I rush and do what I have to do,” McCain said. “The workload right now is just at linebacker, which is very simplified. I feel real comfortable dropping back [into coverage]. It’s a lot of fun.”
The Dolphins are in no rush to pick a starter, knowing Misi can play either middle or strong-side linebacker. And both contenders looked good Friday; McCain had two sacks and Sheppard one.
Philbin suggested the decision on a third starting linebacker would be made not only on “who has the best production,” but also “who works best [and] communicates best with one another.”
Keep in mind that the Dolphins used only two linebackers on the field more than half the time during the second half of last season.
▪ Ryan Tannehill has displayed better accuracy with his deep ball, including a 35-yarder to Michael Preston in 7-on-7 drills on Friday.
“We’re trying to reinforce a lot of things — the touch of the quarterback, the body position of the receiver,” Philbin said. “Just getting those extra reps that are so important.
“We want more explosive passes. We’ve encouraged those guys to take a shot on occasion if the coverage is right.”
THIS AND THAT
▪ Rookie running back Jay Ajayi, who showed good burst during practice, left very late in practice with an arm injury but returned to the field later without any sling or visible sign of discomfort. Ajayi tweeted that his issue was merely arm cramps.
Damien Williams has been taking the majority of second-team snaps, ahead of Ajayi.
Williams is “smooth, has got explosiveness,” Philbin said. “We all gained a confidence and comfort level with him” last year.
▪ Cornerback Will Davis was beaten badly on a deep throw for the second day in a row.
On Thursday, he was victimized by Tommy Streeter, who dropped a perfect pass from Matt Moore. On Friday, LaRon Byrd beat Davis for a 50-yard touchdown pass from Moore.
▪ Andrew Franks, competing with Caleb Sturgis for the kicking job, missed a couple of field goals in non-team drills but made all four of his attempts in team drills, all between 39 and 46 yards.
Though Franks was just 37 for 56 on field goals in college at RPI in New York, Philbin said the Dolphins liked his leg.
“There’s some pop there,” Philbin said. “The ball comes off his foot. Not perfect every time but there’s something to work with.”
▪ Jake Stoneburner has been getting some work as the No. 3 tight end ahead of Arthur Lynch and Tim Semisch. But Semisch, the 6-8 rookie from Northern Illinois, also has impressed. “Love his size,” Philbin said. “Moves well for a guy his size. Has soft hands.”
▪ At least one undrafted rookie linebacker has a decent chance to make the team, and Utah State linebacker Zach Vigil got work with the second team.
▪ Terrence Fede had another sack, giving him 2 1/2 in two days. He also knocked down a pass.