Causation or correlation?
But there must be some connection between the Dolphins losing safety Nate Allen and the Dolphins’ defense losing its edge.
Allen is out for the season after injuring his calf against the Ravens in Week 8. It’s no coincidence that the Dolphins’ once-stingy defense has allowed 95 points in the last three games.
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But there is good news: The cavalry has arrived.
Safety T.J. McDonald’s eight-game suspension ended when Week 9 did. He is eligible to practice Thursday. Assuming all goes well in the next few days, he will do more than that Monday in Carolina. He will start.
“I want him to play,” Dolphins coach Adam Gase said. “I can’t wait to watch him play.”
Michael Thomas and Maurice Smith platooned at safety in Allen’s absence Sunday against the Raiders. The Dolphins surely know that is not a sustainable plan.
Thomas was fooled badly by Marshawn Lynch in the open field, allowing a long touchdown run that was a throwback to Beast Mode’s prime. Smith is a promising young player, but he is not ready to be a from-scrimmage safety.
McDonald, now in his fifth season, is more than ready to give the Dolphins a mid-season jolt.
The ex-Ram had to sit out the first eight games after violating the league’s substance abuse policy.
Why? McDonald was arrested in May 2016 on drug and driving under the influence charges after crashing into a parked car.
He ultimately pleaded guilty to a reckless driving charge involving drugs or alcohol, a misdemeanor. As part of the plea deal, McDonald must serve three years probation and had to complete a three-month alcohol program, attend Narcotics Anonymous and perform 200 hours of community service, the Los Angeles Times reported.
McDonald paid for his mistake in other ways. He would have been one of the most sought-after safeties in free agency last spring, but since teams knew they would only be getting half a player this year, McDonald’s prospects were limited. He ultimately signed a one-year, $1.3 million contract with the Dolphins, with the understanding that he was on a one-strike policy.
Mess up again, and he would be gone.
During his interview with the Dolphins, he made assurances that his past behavior would not be repeated but knows that “words only [mean] so much.”
“This is something that will never happen again and I’ve learned [from it] and owned up to [it],” McDonald said. “I definitely want to grow from [it]. Priorities changed, everything’s changed. This whole experience is something I’m definitely going to grow from. Whatever I can do to help this team is what I’m ready to do.”
Those words have been backed up by actions. McDonald has stayed out of trouble. And he came to camp hungry and with a mean streak. McDonald, in fact, was so impressive that the Dolphins tore up his old contract and gave him a new four-year, $24 million deal before his suspension even began.
Now, they expect a return on that investment.
The Dolphins need McDonald to help get their defense back on track. The secondary has been exposed in recent weeks; Derek Carr lit Miami up for 300 passing yards on Sunday.
“We’ll see where he’s at when we throw him out there,” Gase said. “It’s not like he’s coming back from an injury, so we can put him into practice. … I expect him to be out there ready to go. He’s been chomping at the bit for a while now.”
When asked by a reporter if McDonald is ready to jump right in, a feisty Gase responded:
“I don’t know. Run across the middle and you’ll find out. I think he’s pretty ready.”