So much for easing Reshad Jones back in.
Two days after coach Adam Gase told reporters that the Dolphins “are taking it slow” with their star safety and his strained calf, Jones not only came off the non-football injury list but he was full-go in 11-on-11 drills.
Jones even sneaked into the backfield and blew up a running play in a red zone drill — an element the Dolphins sorely missed when he was out with a major shoulder injury last season.
“I’m ready, man. I’m excited,” Jones said.
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“It feels good. We done great things last year, but I think the ceiling is very high for this team. We’ve just got to continue to put the work in here. The sky’s the limit for us.”
It’s easy to talk that way in training camp, but Jones has reason to be optimistic. This might be the deepest group of safeties the Dolphins have had since Jones entered the league in 2010.
But it’s also perhaps the strangest competition for a starting job in recent memory.
T.J. McDonald might be Miami’s second-best safety; he’s certainly the most physical, as evidenced by the concussion-causing lick he laid on Jay Ajayi on Monday.
But McDonald is suspended for the first eight games of this season, his punishment for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy in 2016.
And yet, the Dolphins have treated the first week of training camp like they will have McDonald available for Week 1.
He’s competing for a starting job, Gase told reporters on Wednesday.
When asked what the team’s plans were for McDonald, Gase replied:
“We haven’t really gotten that far yet. We’re going to figure it out. We had small discussions, but we’re trying not to get too far ahead of ourselves,” he said.
“It’s going to be a tough thing for him to sit and watch. We’re trying to make it as normal for him as possible. We’ve got to try to make that transition, knowing he’s not going to be here.”
Gase added: “We’ll do that at the right time. Right now, I just want him to play ball and not worry about what’s going to be going on in September.”
During McDonald’s suspension, Nate Allen will likely start alongside Jones. Allen took the first snap of 11-on-11 drills on Wednesday, relegating McDonald to the sidelines with Jones back.
But Allen won’t be guaranteed that starting job once McDonald returns. He’ll have to play well to keep it.
“They have a plan for me,” McDonald said.
“We haven’t gone that far yet as far as all that. We’ve got a while left in training camp, and I think that my focus right now just needs to be on training camp.”
Here’s the reason McDonald is so intriguing: His physical style of play perfectly complements Jones’ ball-hawking chops.
The Dolphins think so highly of Jones, they signed him to a five-year, $60 million contract in March even though he was coming of major surgery and had a year left on his existing deal. (Executives of some other teams weren’t pleased with the Dolphins for doing so, since the deal helped extend the top end of the safety pay scale, the Miami Herald learned.)
Given that investment and Jones’ injury history, the Dolphins planned to slow-play his return.
That plan changed this week after he “crushed” his conditioning test.
“My biggest question for him was, ‘Just shoot me straight. Don’t be trying to run out there just so you can say you’re off [the non-football injury list]. You’ve got to be honest with us,’ ” Gase said.
“He legitimately felt really good and probably did a little more than I expected. I think it’s hard with him because there’s no middle ground for him. Either it’s, ‘I’m going or I’m not.’ He looked good.”