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Miami Dolphins’ Karlos Dansby has plenty on his plate

An Atkins dieter, Karlos Dansby is not.

Oh sure, he eats plenty of protein. Eight pounds of bison meat per week, to be exact.

But Dansby also gorges on mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes. And yet, the Dolphins’ starting middle linebacker, starch lover and unquestioned leader of the defense has dropped more than 30 pounds in the past 18 months.

This week, Dansby claimed he’s “10 times stronger, 10 times faster, 10 times quicker” than he has ever been.

Should he draw dynamic Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez in one-on-one coverage Sunday, he had better be 100 percent on his game.

Hernandez has missed six games this season because of injury, but it looks like he’ll play when the high-flying Patriots visit Sun Life Stadium on Sunday. And with Rob Gronkowski out with a broken arm, Hernandez probably will give Dansby plenty of exercise in New England’s tight end-centric offense.

“I’m going to stay in his hip pocket,” Dansby said Wednesday. “He’s got decent speed, but he’s not a burner.

“I’ve been playing him the last couple of years, so I know what he likes to do.”

Here’s what Dansby likes to do most: make game-changing plays. And yet, he’s still waiting for his first big splash of the season.

Before the season, Dansby had lofty goals. He wanted 150 tackles and five interceptions this year.

Through 11 games, he leads the team with 83 tackles, according to team stats. But he has no picks — although not from lack of opportunity. By Dansby’s own estimation, he has dropped at least four potential interceptions this year. And, to paraphrase a word he used that was unfit for print, he’s ticked about it.

Overall, the Dolphins have gone 17 quarters without forcing a turnover, a big reason why they’re minus-10 in takeaways, tied for 27th in the league.

“That’s fine; it’s all about timing,” Dansby said. “Timing is everything.”

Does that mean you’re due, even with the ultra-cautious Tom Brady coming to down?

Does that mean Dansby is due, even with Tom Brady coming to town?

“Timing is everything,” Dansby repeated with a sly smile. “Right now, it’s the time our defense takes our team to the next level.”

For his part, Brady has nothing but respect for the Dolphins defense.

As he told Miami reporters this week: “It’s a very disruptive front — one of the best groups of linebackers in the league, with [Kevin] Burnett and Dansby and [Koa] Misi.”

Dansby has played at a high level this season, although has clearly been hampered by a dislocated finger and torn biceps. Those injuries, sustained more than a month ago, have played a role in his dropped picks.

Yet Dansby, never lacking for confidence, said he has “played great,” particularly considering he learned the Dolphins’ 4-3 defense on the fly this season. It took some time for him to get the hang of the angles involved from playing alone in the middle, and said he’s really excited about the prospect of getting a full offseason to master the defense.

Still, he has been in the right place often enough to tally 40 defensive stops — Pro Football Focus’ stat for solo tackles that constitute an offensive failure. The website ranks Dansby as the NFL’s No. 11 inside linebacker, and the Dolphins have allowed just 96.7 rushing yards per game, seventh-best in the league.

“Certain teams have guys you look to,” Burnett said. “He’s kind of the pilot of the ship, and we’re only going to go as far as he takes us.”

Which brings us back to Hernandez, and his challenge to the ever-slimming Dansby.

More than once this season, Dolphins linebackers have had to cover tight ends on deep routes. Don’t be surprised if the Patriots hope to make them do it again.

Despite missing more than half the season, Hernandez is sixth on the team with 19 catches. With Gronkowski gone, he’s the Patriots’ most logical red zone threat.

“You’ll get him all over the place,” Dansby said. “They do a good job of moving him around, getting him in mismatches.”

Sounds like Dansby will have his hands full. Better eat a hearty meal.

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