The Dolphins do not know with certainty if Chris McCain is better off at defensive end or linebacker — he’s playing the former now.
But they do know this: With Cameron Wake out for the season, McCain offers something that’s needed: speed off the edge as a pass-rusher.
“I just think the guy is unique,” defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo said. “To use the guy in some different roles is what we’re trying to nail down for him, whether it be rushing the passer or dropping in coverage. Whatever it is, he brings a unique skill set and we’re going to try to take advantage of it.”
The Dolphins hoped McCain would win a starting linebacker job in training camp, but Kelvin Sheppard beat him out. McCain, in the process, went from potential starter to barely playing at all, inactive for four of Miami’s seven games.
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So McCain didn’t mind when Miami moved him from strong-side linebacker to defensive end after Dan Campbell took over as interim coach nearly a month ago. McCain said he initially learned about the position switch from a fan on Twitter, then confirmed it with Campbell the next day.
He’s happy about the switch because at defensive end “there’s not too much thinking. You can play freely and loose.”
Because McCain thought he would be playing linebacker, he dropped from 257 to 243 pounds over the past several months. Now he’s trying to get back to 257 so he’s better equipped to play defensive end. For perspective, all of the Dolphins’ other defensive ends are listed between 270 and 280.
“Now I have to be working on gaining weight,” he said. “But I’m eating a little more, maybe throwing a couple of extra shakes in during the day. But as far as being ready and figuring out their schemes and their setup, I believe I’m ready for that.”
Undrafted out of California, McCain impressed when given the chance last season, producing a sack and a blocked punt in his first NFL game against the Patriots. (That was his only sack in 10 games last year and the only one of his career.) But he has played only a handful of plays on defense this season.
“The frustrating part is you hear all week you’ve been doing good,” he said.
With Wake out, McCain and Terrence Fede will be the backup defensive ends behind Olivier Vernon and Derrick Shelby.
“I’m excited for the opportunity,” McCain said. “Now you get to show to everyone why you should have been dressing every week.”
Campbell said the need to create roster space on game days for special-teams players led to McCain being inactive for more than half the games.
“I think you play to his strength,” Campbell said. “What we do know about him — and most of it obviously is practice — is that he can rush the passer a little bit. He’s kind of a long, lengthy guy. There’s a few things you can do with him, but certainly rushing the passer is something that he can be in for.”
The most attention McCain generated this season was for a Twitter avatar of a photoshopped photo of him squeezing the head of Tom Brady, which surfaced before last week’s Patriots game. McCain said it was sent in by a fan who won McCain’s contest for creative avatars and that he posted it in the spring.
McCain said Campbell told him that, “You cannot tweet that stuff because I’m asked about that.”
McCain will follow Campbell’s orders but conceded the Brady avatar “got me more followers.” (He’s above 7,600 now.)
Starting tight end Jordan Cameron, who has avoided the concussion problems that plagued him the past few years, is in jeopardy for Sunday because of a hamstring injury. The Dolphins listed four players as questionable: Cameron, running back Damien Williams (hand injury and illness), defensive tackle Jordan Phillips (knee) and linebacker Neville Hewitt (hamstring).
Receiver DeVante Parker (foot) and safety Jordan Kovacs (knee) are doubtful and aren’t expected to play. Right tackle Ja’Wuan James (toe) is out.
Campbell said Williams missed practice Friday because “he ate something bad.” If he’s not healthy, the Dolphins might activate running back Jay Ajayi from short-term injured reserve; Campbell said that decision hadn’t been made as of Friday afternoon. Ajayi must be activated by next Wednesday or otherwise will be required to sit out the season.
“He’s looked good,” Campbell said of Ajayi. “There are certainly things he looks a little rusty at.”
Parker, meanwhile, ended up missing the entire week of practice because of discomfort with scar tissue on his surgically-repaired left foot.
“There was some irritation in that foot,” Campbell said. “We don’t think it’s a big deal. It obviously ended up being bigger than we thought it would.” Campbell expects Parker to return to practice next week.
For the Bills, receiver Percy Harvin (knee) and defensive tackle Kyle Williams (knee) are out, and receiver Sammy Watkins (ankle) is questionable.