A week after benching cornerback Byron Maxwell, the Dolphins now need him more than ever.
With Xavien Howard expected to miss three to six weeks after knee surgery, Maxwell will return to the starting lineup opposite Tony Lippett, defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said.
And Joseph wants Maxwell to do more of what he does best: play press coverage
“We’ve got Maxwell back in the fold,” Joseph said Friday afternoon. “He’s worked hard. His attitude has been great. I’m excited to see him play come Sunday.”
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In the first three games, Maxwell “had some issues with soft coverage and obviously missed tackles,” Joseph said. “But the last two weeks in practice, he’s kind of rectified those things. He’s a press corner and I want him to press most of the time.
“He’s got some splits where he was forced to play off and it kind of led to him being off too often. The tackling stuff, he’s got to tackle better. He’s got to play better. He recognizes that.”
Howard, incidentally, was injured when “he got tangled in one on ones with Kenny Stills,” Joseph said. “It was an innocent play. He jumped and came down on the knee. He didn’t realize he was hurt at the time.”
Who will play boundary corner, if needed, if something happens to Maxwell or Lippett during Sunday’s game against Tennessee?
“Bobby [McCain] would be next guy in,” Joseph said. “We’ve got Jordan Lucas, who can go outside. And Michael Thomas plays nickel. We’ve got some flexibility on the back end.”
Joseph said free safety snaps would be shared between Isa Abdul Quddus and Michael Thomas, a process that began last week.
“Bobby is playing so well at nickel we didn’t want to waste Michael on the sidelines, so we kind of split reps at safety and let Bobby have more nickel reps,” Joseph said. “He has played very well in games. I didn’t want Michael’s snap count to go down.”
The Dolphins intend to use Chris Culliver at cornerback as soon as he’s healthy and eligible to return off PUP. Culliver, coming off a major knee injury during a practice last Thanksgiving, is eligible to play beginning Oct. 23 against Buffalo.
Some other news from Joseph:
• With Koa Misi still out indefinitely with a neck injury, Donald Butler will start at strong side linebacker Sunday, Joseph said.
“He’s an experienced linebacker,” Joseph said. “He’s played on good defenses. He’s tough inside backer that can fit the run game. In coverage, he’s been fine.”
Joseph said he isn’t sure if Jelani Jenkins will be healthy enough to play Sunday.
Asked who among the backup linebackers played the best against Cincinnati, Joseph said: “I think Neville Hewitt played really well. Butler played well for his first start. He had a couple things on the pressure package that he kind of had negatives on. As far as fitting the run game and coverage wise, he was wise. Spencer [Paysinger] played well at dime backer for the most part.”
• On why the run defense was better against Cincinnati: “The key ingredient was fitting our gaps. It was a nice deal because we played most of that first half in shell coverage. I was afraid of AJ Green beating us over the top so I played more shell coverage knowing the run game is important to be stopped….
“First three weeks, out of 40 runs in the game, 30 were fit perfectly. Four or five weren’t. It wasn’t an overall problem where I was so concerned about the scheme. It was more pop gap here, pop game there. It was nice last week it was finally stopped, even in shell coverage.”
• On stopping Tennessee’s DeMarco Murray: “It’s a run first offense. They’re averaging 5.7 yards on first down. Stopping DeMarco is going to be a huge deal for us. Everyone else, we’ve got to hold our own. He’s the main focus this week.”
• On how he plans to use Cam Wake, who twice has played 16 snaps or fewer in the first two games: “Cam is our specialty rusher. To use Cam more, it’s got to be more of a passing game. Last four weeks hasn’t been that. Maybe Cleveland was kind of like that, middle third and fourth quarter. His role won’t change much. We’ve got to lead, so Cam can get more snaps. Until that, he is going to be third down rusher.”
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