Louis Delmas’ MRI exam Thursday confirmed what doctors suspected Wednesday:
His right anterior cruciate ligament is again torn, and he’s done for the season.
But the Dolphins had already moved on before the results came in. They are mulling all external safeties options — via trade, free agents or players soon to be cut.
And they have quickly gotten to work coaching up Delmas’ most likely replacement, Walt Aikens.
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The second-year defensive back worked in Delmas’ place with the first team during Thursday’s second (and final) joint practice with the Panthers. .
“It’s a big blow being that he just came off of injury less than nine months ago,” Aikens said. “It hurt us, but we’re praying for him and we’re going to move forward from this.”
He continued: “I’m just out here doing what the coaches ask me to do. They need somebody to step up. I’m here getting better every day, trying to do whatever I can to help the team.”
Aikens is in line for a huge promotion. He logged just 64 defensive snaps in 2014, third-fewest of any Dolphins player.
But after a strong offseason, Aikens has leap-frogged Michael Thomas on the depth chart and is expected to start Saturday in his native Charlotte, North Carolina.
“I think the big thing is going to be when we get out here Saturday night and all of the coaches are on the sidelines, some are up in the press box and things are happening fast and nobody is kind of reassuring them of what the right motion adjustment check is or empty check and those types of things,” coach Joe Philbin said.
“Can they get a guy down in space? Can they tackle a guy when it’s third-and-8 and the guy catches a 5-yard pass? Those type of things. We need to see them compete and make plays.”
Aiken acknowledged that the speed of the NFL game was a bit overwhelming last year. But he has a better feel in Year 2.
Confidence is key, he added. And he’s confident that the secondary will be better than some might think.
“Not worried about it. We’re just gonna ball,” Aikens said. “I’ve been with these guys for two years. I’ve got all the confidence in the world in these guys and they’ve got all the confidence in me. We’re just going to play football. It’s not that hard of a game.”
When asked if people shouldn’t be sleeping on the Dolphins’ defensive backfield, Aikens responded:
“Not at all. You can try it if you want to.”
Perhaps not. But they certainly need work together. The first-string defensive backfield was ragged at times Thursday, allowing two quick touchdown passes during full-team red-zone drills. Aikens was picked on for one; Brent Grimes was beat for the other.
If Aikens doesn’t pan out (and the Dolphins don’t bring in a starter from the outside), Thomas or even Cedric Thompson could get a look. Thomas re-signed after a solid 2014 season; Thompson had an interception late Thursday, a highlight of an otherwise quiet rookie camp.
“That’s the beauty of the NFL,” said Reshad Jones, who picked off Cam Newton on Thursday. “It’s next man up, next man in line. Our coaches do a great job of preparing each and every individual for those game situations, so I think Walt Aikens or Michael Thomas will be ready.”
As for Delmas, the North Miami Beach High alum, 28, has another long road to recovery, one that likely will take more than just the six months he needed to get back in practice form after last season’s ACL tear.
That quick return to the field had some questioning the wisdom of such a quick rehab schedule long before Wednesday’s injury.
“Obviously, I have great confidence in our medical staff, No. 1,” Philbin said. “And No. 2, I feel good about the progression that we put in place for him. It wasn’t like the medical staff cleared him on a Monday and we put into a full team situation on a Tuesday and getting 50 reps.
“There was a gradual build-up and progression that I think we were comfortable with as a coaching staff, the medical staff was comfortable with and most importantly the player was, too.”