The Dolphins begin life without their Pro Bowl safety against Buffalo on Sunday, and defensive coordinator Vance Joseph has a plan to help compensate for the loss of Reshad Jones to a season-ending shoulder injury.
“Reshad is a big part of what we’ve done in the past and going forward,” Joseph said Thursday. “[But] I’m not overly concerned. It definitely hurts with Reshad but we can’t worry about that.”
Joseph said Michael Thomas, as expected, will replace Jones in the starting lineup opposite Isa Abdul-Quddus, who has two of Miami’s three interceptions this season. (Jones has the other).
The twist is that Joseph said they sometimes will alternate in filling Jones’ strong safety spot. The one who doesn’t play strong safety will play free safety.
“When you make a change like that, you are hoping to keep the guy who’s played in the same role,” Joseph said when asked if Abdul-Quddus will move to Jones’ strong safety position. “That’s sometimes tough to do. We will have different packages where Isa is playing [Jones’] role and Michael’s playing [Jones’] role, kind of play to both guys’ strengths. It will be a little bit different than what you see with [Jones] out there.”
Thomas has started 17 games for the Dolphins, including 13 last season and two this season.
“Michael is a smart, tough, fully engaged player,” Joseph said. “I have no concerns about Michael being the starter. He’s not Reshad. Reshad is not Michael. But I think Michael will do a fine job.”
Joseph said there’s no need to move a cornerback to safety:
“We’re fine with Michael, we’re fine with Isa. We’ve got Walt Aikens there. We’ve got three guys who have played in NFL games. I’m comfortable there.”
Aikens hasn’t played a defensive snap this season.
Joseph also noted that rookie cornerback Jordan Lucas can also play safety.
Joseph said he won’t change defensive schemes in Jones’ absence. Jones’ unique skill set allowed the Dolphins to use him in different ways.
“Not having Reshad, that’s a huge loss for us,” Joseph said. “Reshad is a great blitzer, a great cover guy, a great guy in the middle third. The overall scheme should not change much. Some matchups might change, but the overall scheme won’t change much.”
Joseph addressed other issues:
• On Byron Maxwell’s performance against Pittsburgh last week: “Byron played really well. You can see as a big corner vs. a smaller receiver, he can get his hands on him and have success. He played a smart game last week. He didn’t have any plays where you say, ‘What was that?’ He was solid. He was into it. He was focused and sharp. That was the key to the game last week.”
• On how Cam Wake did with a season-high 41 snaps against Pittsburgh (out of 55 defensive snaps): “Cam was fine. It was obviously going into the game a passing game. We thought it would definitely fit Cam, his skill set.”
Joseph said against Buffalo, which leads the league in rushing, “the mindset changes. It’s a run first offense first, so in turn, it’s a run stop defense first for us and pass second. We always focus on what they do best and that’s running the football this week.”
• Joseph, on Mario Williams, who was demoted last week: “He understands he has to play better when he’s in there. Last week, he played about 15 snaps and he was productive. He could have been more productive. He wants to earn his way back into a starting role, so he understands that.”
• Joseph said defensive end Andre Branch “played fast and played physical” against Pittsburgh. “That’s what’s being taught up front. He played with a different edge. He played physical and fast and played smart. That’s what we want from those guys to be disruptors. That’s what he did.”
• Special teams coordinator Darren Rizzi, on Andrew Franks, who has had two field goals blocked this season (24 and 27) and also missed from 50 yards (against Pittsburgh):
“We believe a lot in our guy. I’m his biggest critic. He knows he’s got to make those shorter field goals and fix the problem and elevate the ball more on those shorter field goals. He’s got to get that corrected. The two field goal blocks we had this year were not the protection.
“The ball has to get elevated better. What happens with young kickers sometimes is you get in close and those guys tend to relax. [But] I’ve got a lot of confidence in the guy. Do I want to be 7 for 10 in field goals now? No. Now a PAT is a 33 yard field goal [and he’s made 13 of 13 in those].”