Is Miami’s $12 million man now a part-time player?
Talent was the reason the Dolphins tolerated Lawrence Timmons’ vanishing act in September.
But two-thirds into Timmons’ first (and more likely than not, only) season with the Dolphins, flashes of that talent have been few and far between.
Has Father Time caught up to Timmons, who was supposed to be the panacea for a perennially poor linebacker unit?
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The Dolphins hinted at that last week, when they subbed him off the field in passing situations. Kiko Alonso and Stephone Anthony were Miami’s nickel linebackers in the Buccaneers game until Anthony left with a quadriceps injury.
The Dolphins’ thinking here is not hard to figure out: Timmons has been a liability in pass coverage. Opposing quarterbacks have completed 29 of 39 passes against him for 244 yards and two touchdowns this year — good for a 107.2 passer rating.
“I think I could do better, you know what I mean?” Timmons told the Miami Herald recently. “A lot of things I could work on, but still striving.”
When asked if he was OK with not being an every-down player at this stage in his career, Timmons replied:
“I mean, whatever coach says, I’m just trying to do my part.”
This, of course, was not the plan when the Dolphins signed Timmons to a two-year, $12 million contract — much of it guaranteed (at the time) — in March. He was supposed to be the answer.
But little of Timmons’ 2017 season has gone according to plan. The Dolphins are 10 games into the season, but have had Timmons for only eight of them. He infamously disappeared from the team hotel the night before Miami’s season opener in Los Angeles, and missed two games because of that erratic behavior.
Timmons’ subsequent suspension voided future guaranteed money, meaning the Dolphins can walk away from him after this year with little salary cap pain.
Expect them to do so unless he quickly turns things around.
Pro Football Focus ranks Timmons, 31, in the bottom half of qualifying NFL linebackers, based in large part on his 10 missed tackles and his diminished effectiveness getting to the quarterback. Timmons has just three hurries this year, down from 12 in 2016.
Anthony is on track to play in Sunday’s “must-win” game (as Mike Pouncey put it) against the Patriots, so Timmons could again find himself on the bench in passing downs.
“I’ve been watching Steph on the scout team and running around and I really like the way he has been practicing and showing,” said Dolphins defensive coordinator Matt Burke. “It wasn’t necessarily just Lawrence, but I felt my argument for getting him active and involved is that he’s a big, young player that can run and hit and do some of those things and have some fresh legs.
Burke added: “I wouldn’t say it was directly in terms of Lawrence, but just the group in general, I felt like it would benefit that crew to have somebody take some snaps off some of that group and just be a fresher athlete that can go out and do some coverage stuff and close some space, and hopefully alleviate some of the things.”
The problem with facing Tom Brady is this: Most every down is a passing down.
Timmons knows that well. He had many battles with Brady during his career’s first 10 years, all spent with the Steelers.
The most recent: New England’s blowout win over Pittsburgh in January’s AFC Championship Game. Brady completed 32 of 42 passes for 384 yards and three touchdowns in that game, and Timmons was part of the problem.
He allowed all six passes thrown in his coverage area to be completed, according to Pro Football Focus.
In Timmons’ past three games against the Patriots, he has allowed 17 of 19 passes to be completed for 137 yards and two touchdowns. That’s a passer rating of 131.8.
“You’ve got to mix it up, be physical and stick to your game plan,” Timmons said. “It’s a combination. It has to be a team effort, you know what I mean? You can’t just do one thing. You’ve got to do a combination.”