Koa Misi and Jelani Jenkins missed practice for the third consecutive day on Thursday, increasing the likelihood that the Dolphins will be without arguably their two best linebackers Sunday at New England.
Misi has been dealing with knee and hamstring injuries, and Jenkins sustained a foot injury in Sunday’s loss to Baltimore. What’s more, reserve linebacker Jonathan Freeny remains out with a hamstring issue, and Chris McCain was limited in practice with an ankle injury.
Coach Joe Philbin typically does not use players who do not practice late in the week but said he has no firm rule against it.
If Misi and Jenkins do not play, the Dolphins’ starting linebacker troika on Sunday likely would be Philip Wheeler, Jason Trusnik and Kelvin Sheppard.
“I’ve been a starter in this league for [parts of] three years [with the Colts and Bills],” Sheppard said. “I’m definitely up to the test.”
Rookie Jordan Tripp and Jake Knott, who was promoted from the practice squad this week, would be the backup linebackers — along with McCain, if he is healthy enough to play.
Jenkins and Misi are the Dolphins’ best linebackers in pass coverage. Dion Jordan, a backup defensive end, will be needed some in coverage against tight end Rob Gronkowski, who has 10 touchdown receptions.
Jordan said covering Gronkowski — which he has done successfully in the past — is “definitely a challenge. A lot of people have tried and failed.”
MORE HEALTH ISSUES
▪ The Dolphins lost two more players Thursday. Safety Walt Aikens was sent home with strep throat and defensive tackle Anthony Johnson was on crutches after sustaining a leg injury in practice.
▪ Starting cornerback Cortland Finnegan, who has missed three games with a hamstring injury, reiterated that he will be ready to play Sunday.
But Jamar Taylor, who has missed two games with a shoulder injury, was less certain, saying he wants to play but isn’t sure what the coaches will decide. Taylor has been wearing a harness on his separated shoulder, and “it takes getting used to.”
Finnegan, Taylor and tight end Charles Clay were limited in practice on Thursday.
▪ With Jimmy Wilson replacing the injured Louis Delmas at safety, the Dolphins will need to fill Wilson’s nickel cornerback role.
Finnegan is expected to play on the boundary in base defense, but he’s well-equipped to cover the slot receiver in nickel coverage, with Taylor or RJ Stanford playing on the boundary opposite Brent Grimes in those situations.
▪ Why have the coaches stuck with the struggling Dallas Thomas at right tackle, even after he allowed three sacks last Sunday?
“Dallas has done some good things,” Philbin said.
“There’s a lot of pictures in the [Ravens] game where he pass protected well. There are a few that aren’t very good. I think in the run game he’s been productive, but you have to remember there are 50 some-odd plays in a game. We all sometimes get focused on the three or four bad ones, but there are a lot of good things.”