In the spring, there was a debate in Dolphins headquarters on which player was best-suited at middle linebacker.
The coaching staff, by and large, wanted Koa Misi in the role. Members of the personnel department favored Kelvin Sheppard.
In the end, the coaches came around to the view of the scouts.
Sheppard will start in the middle Sunday against the Redskins, and will be out to prove a point — about himself and the Dolphins’ linebackers.
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“I think it’s very underestimated, underrated, but I wouldn’t want it any other way,” Sheppard said of the unit. “I wouldn’t want people writing down, yelling out, ‘They’re the best thing since sliced bread’ and ‘they’re unstoppable’ and all of this.”
Sheppard continued: “I want people to not really know about us. [I want us to] come out and put it all into action and give them something to talk about, rather [than] it be expectation, prediction … and you not live up to it.”
Sheppard is on the field largely because he gives the Dolphins the best three players possible at linebacker. Jelani Jenkins will start on the weak side, and Misi slides from the middle to the strong side.
In essence, the Dolphins have more confidence in Sheppard in the middle than they do in Chris McCain on the strong side (which would have been the lineup had Misi played on the inside).
“Our job as coaches is to put players in position to be successful, put the best players on the field based on the situation and who’s in the game for them, what the situation of the game is,” coach Joe Philbin said. “Right now, that’s where we are.”
Despite starting the first three games of the preseason, Sheppard wasn’t assured he would be the first-team middle linebacker until Monday. On Thursday, he said it still wasn’t clear who would be on the field during nickel situations.
The assumption is that Misi and Jenkins will be the nickel linebackers, but Sheppard said he has gotten work in that role in practice too.
“I’m happy to be back where I believe I belong,” said Sheppard, who played with the Bills and Colts before joining the Dolphins in 2014. “I’m not bragging or boasting, but I have high confidence in myself and that’s where I see myself and believe in myself to be, a starter in the NFL. I’ve done it before and produced.”
ODDS AND ENDS
▪ Offensive tackle Jason Fox returned to practice Thursday after missing all but one since sustaining a concussion Aug. 22. He participated on a limited basis, as did returner LaMike James (shoulder).
▪ Rookie wide receiver DeVante Parker has “gotten better and better” each day, Philbin said. Parker is expected to make his NFL debut Sunday, three months after surgery to replace a screw in his foot. Philbin added: “We’ve got a couple more practices and we’ll make the final decision with play time at the end of the week.”
▪ By the end of Thursday’s practice, the Dolphins had installed “99.8 percent” of the game plan against the Redskins, Philbin said.