Miami Dolphins

The problems are multiplying for the short-handed Dolphins secondary

Miami Dolphins running back Kenyan Drake (32) looks to dodge Denver’s Will Parks (34) in the third quarter of the game at Hard Rock Stadium on Dec. 3, 2017.
Miami Dolphins running back Kenyan Drake (32) looks to dodge Denver’s Will Parks (34) in the third quarter of the game at Hard Rock Stadium on Dec. 3, 2017. ctrainor@miamiherald.com

A six-pack of Dolphins notes on a Friday:

▪ With cornerback Cordrea Tankersley again not practicing Friday because of ankle and shoulder injuries, the Dolphins’ secondary appears likely to be short-handed against the quarterback you would least like to be short-handed against: New England’s Tom Brady.

The glass-half-full perspective on Miami’s pass defense? Three positives heading into Monday’s game at Hard Rock Stadium:

1) The Patriots will be without suspended tight end Rob Gronkowski.

2) Cornerback Alterraun Verner played well last week against Denver, albeit against a far less potent offense.

“Verner did a good job,” defensive coordinator Matt Burke said. “He’s the ultimate pro.”

3) Cornerback Xavien Howard has played at a high level for the past three weeks. Even beyond the two interceptions last Sunday (the first two regular-season picks of his career), he broke up three other passes.

So what has led to this sudden improvement?

“X has been good in coverage most of the year,” Burke said. “The emphasis has been on finishing those plays and that was always the next step for him. I feel we forget he had somewhat of a lost season last year [he missed nine games of his rookie season due to injury].

“X early in the season was still developing through that rookie experience and as the season started progressing, he was tighter in coverage. Last couple weeks, he’s gone the next step. It’s a natural progression. He missed enough time last year that he wasn’t fully experienced through the ups and downs. Hopefully this is him turning the corner and really becoming what we expected from him.” 

Would the Dolphins worry about Brady targeting Tankersley if the rookie corner plays Monday, because of his injury issues?

“Everyone is a target for Brady,” Burke said. “If we make a determination Tank is going to play, it’s because he’s healthy.”

Besides Tankersley, guard Jermon Bushrod, quarterback Matt Moore, safety Michael Thomas and running back Damien Williams also remained sidelined Friday.

▪  Why did rookie defensive end Cameron Malveaux get so much playing time (32 snaps) in his first regular-season NFL game last Sunday? Besides the Dolphins needing to replace injured William Hayes, Malveaux had left an impression in practice.

“Malveaux is a big body for a defensive end, a little different body type than we have,” Burke said. “He has been destroying the offense in practice and really getting after them. He is doing everything right. He is the first person sitting in the meeting room waiting for it to start. He’s a big long kid. Tough against the run, sets edges for us. As a rusher, he will not be super fancy but does a good job long-arming and collapsing the pocket, which is a benefit to us.”

▪  Burke expects Bobby McCain to handle himself better than the game two weeks ago against New England, when he was ejected for a scuffle with Patriots receiver Danny Amendola.

“Bobby is a competitive kid — he’s feisty,” Burke said. “He will try to get under your skin. Those guys will try to let him know you’re there and try to irritate them a little bit. We’ve got to keep our composure. We can’t respond to it.”

McCain said the Patriots “are known for extra blocking after the play.”

▪  Kenny Stills is Miami’s nominee for the Walter Payton Man of the Year award, an acknowledgment of his considerable work in the community on his off days.

And Dolphins coaches this week couldn’t stop raving about his play and leadership.

“He made a conscious decision, ‘I’m going to be a better football player,’” offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen said. “’I’m going to be an upper-echelon receiver in this league.’ His technique is good, he’s running good routes. He’s becoming a well-rounded [receiver].

“We’re dying for guys where you can say work like him, do it like him. We’re dying for leadership offensively. He’s turning into a heck of a pro. You want to be a better pro? Watch Kenny Stills. He’s turned into a really fine receiver.”

▪  The difficulty playing the Patriots extends well beyond their personnel.

“They are going to take away anything you’ve shown you have done well,” coach Adam Gase said. “If any tendencies you developed even from one game, they will be on it.”

Gase noted he has played the Patriots 12 times in his career and called plays six or seven games against them. “They do a good job of changing things up and showing you different looks.”

Burke said: “You have to be quick with the calls. They are probably the best in the league at breaking the huddle and running their plays. That was a point of emphasis.” 

▪  Ndamukong Suh had this interesting spin on his job Monday: “I’d love to make [Brady] mad,” Suh said. “My job is to piss him off and have him yelling at his offensive linemen for not blocking me, his coach and everybody on the sideline. That’s my job. We know he likes to drop back and throw comfortably and have this nice pocket; but my sole job is to disrupt that at all costs. …

“I think the last game we played them, we had some good hits on him and understood what they wanted to do. Personally, I can reach back to some times in Detroit where they actually pulled him from a game. [It was] a preseason game, so maybe it wasn’t that important; but it was important for us just to get a gauge to see where we were at. I’ve had some success against him.”

Miami Dolphin head coach Adam Gase speaks to the media after the Dolphins are defeated by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Hard Rock Stadium on Sun., Nov. 19, 2017.​

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