For Dolphins corner Dimitri Patterson, the first day after the bye week felt a little like the first day back to school.
It’s been more than five weeks since Patterson has taken a defensive snap; he has been shelved longer than expected by a nagging groin injury.
But when the Dolphins got back to work Monday, they did so with Patterson on the practice field — great news for a secondary that ranks 26th in passing yards allowed.
“I asked him [Monday] if he knew how to put his pads back on or did somebody have to teach him,” defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle said Monday, a grin on his face. “It’s seems like it’s been a long time since he’s been out here with us.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Miami Herald
“He certainly will provide a big boost if we can get him back in the lineup as quickly as we can,” Coyle added, more seriously.
If he can make it through the week without a setback, Patterson will likely play Sunday against the Bills.
The same could be said for much of the Dolphins’ mending defense, which hasn’t been whole since the second half of the season opener.
That’s when Patterson injured his groin. Since then, Cameron Wake, Paul Soliai, Dannell Ellerbe, Chris Clemons, Koa Misi, Philip Wheeler and Nolan Carroll all have missed parts of — if not entire — games because of injury.
But thanks to the well-timed bye, the Dolphins’ health on the defensive side is much improved. Only one player on that side of the ball — Soliai — was absent from practice Monday, and that was because of illness.
“Since the Cleveland game, we’ve been unfortunate,” Patterson said. “We’re slowly getting guys back, and I feel real good about the continuity we are going to build here over the next 11 weeks.”
Few players have been missed more than Wake, who missed the Sept. 30 game at New Orleans and was limited to just one series in the Oct. 6 loss to the Ravens because of a knee sprain. The Dolphins defense started the season on fire, tallying nine sacks in the first two games. Then Wake got injured, and the team has sacked opposing quarterbacks just four times since.
The diminished pass rush and thin secondary have allowed opposing quarterbacks to scorch Miami deep. The Dolphins have allowed 21 pass plays of 20 or more yards, tied for ninth-most in the league — despite playing one fewer game than most of their competition.
“We’ve got to do a better job limiting explosive plays, no doubt about it,” coach Joe Philbin said.
Added corner Brent Grimes: “Things like that can’t happen.”
Having Wake back would help. But will he return Sunday? The All-Pro pass rusher has been compliant with Philbin’s rules against talking about injuries, so he spoke mainly in generalities Monday.
In the past month, Wake has played just three defensive snaps — all in the first series against Baltimore — and said his availability for the Bills game will be decided throughout the week.
Wake, who had last missed a game because of injury in 2001, wasn’t surprised that the Dolphins pulled him after one series a week ago Sunday. He was part of the decision.
“I’d love to be out there, one leg, one arm, doing whatever I can,” Wake said. “[But] you have to think of the team as a whole. I can’t be selfish. Maybe another guy out there is better suited to help the team win.”
His team has the best chance of winning when Wake and the rest of its starters are at or near 100 percent. The bye week let them get closer to that goal.
Ellerbe, who left the Ravens game and didn’t return, is among those who benefitted the most from the week off. Although held out of most of practice with a shoulder issue, he expects to play against the Bills.
“Any time you have time to heal, it’s a positive,” Ellerbe said.