Whatever treatment Reshad Jones got late Wednesday, it appears to have worked.
A day after the organization had strong doubts about Jones’ availability for Sunday’s game in Jacksonville, Jones dressed and practiced on a limited basis Thursday.
“It feels a lot better today,” Jones said.
The Dolphins naturally hope that trend line continues. He’s not only their last remaining starting safety, but was arguably their best defensive player in Week 1.
Jones had 12 tackles against the Redskins, including one for loss, and knocked down a pass. Jones was particularly strong against the run — one of very few on the Dolphins’ defense who was; Miami allowed 161 yards on the ground Sunday.
“He’s a Pro Bowl-caliber type safety, so any time you lose something like that, you’re losing leadership, you’re losing playmaking ability,” fellow safety Michael Thomas said. “We’re hoping he can play.”
Thomas’ remarks are selfless. Other than the Jaguars, no one has more to gain by Jones sitting out than him.
He’s the one who would start if Jones cannot go.
Thomas was on the field for 29 percent of the Dolphins’ snaps from scrimmage in Week 1, including the Dolphins’ game-sealing stop late in regulation.
Thomas’ tackle set up third-and-long on the Redskins’ final drive; Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins followed that with two incompletions to essentially end the game.
In a way, it was a bit of déjà vu for Thomas. It has been nearly two years since he made his biggest play as a professional.
Just days after the Dolphins signed Thomas off the 49ers’ practice squad in 2013, he was unexpectedly thrust into action late against the Patriots after injuries crippled the Dolphins secondary. In something out of a movie, Thomas picked off Tom Brady in the end zone, a play that is now folklore — at least among his friends and family.
Should he play Sunday, at least he’ll have gotten some work with the starters in practice.
And in a strange way, he has been preparing for this scenario since the start of camp. Thomas and Walt Aikens played together on the Dolphins’ second team for much of the preseason.
Once Louis Delmas went down with a torn ACL, the Dolphins elevated Aikens to the first team. And depending on Jones’ health, they might do the same this weekend with Thomas.
“We worked it out,” Aikens said of the late-game safety scramble in Washington. “Me and Mike are comfortable playing safety together. We just communicated together and got the job done.”
Aikens was solid in his first pro start. He allowed half of the passes thrown in his coverage area to be completed, and surrendered 4.5 yards per pass attempt.
In the Dolphins’ system, the strong and free safety positions are more interchangeable that others, so it’s not clear how the Dolphins would use Aikens and Thomas in the event Jones cannot play.
Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said he “absolutely, definitely” has confidence in Thomas if he’s needed to start.
“He’s a really hard worker, No. 1,” Philbin said. “He loves football. He comes into the building every day with the same attitude, very positive. He’s a good, solid football player. He has good instincts out there, he’s a good tackler. His play speed is good.”
If the Dolphins had to be in this position, at least it isn’t against an elite offense. The Jaguars ranked 31st in passing in 2014, and quarterback Blake Bortles picked up last week where he left off in December.
Bortles completed just 22 of 40 passes for 183 yards and threw two interceptions in the Jaguars’ Week 1 loss to the Panthers. His passer rating (54.5) was second-worst in the league.
Should Jones not play, it’ll also affect the Dolphins’ special teams. Thomas is one of the team’s most dependable players in the kicking game. His 15 special-teams snaps were second-most on the team in Week 1.
So should the Dolphins have to ease his workload if they’ll need him for 65 snaps on defense?
“No,” Thomas said dismissively. “Please. That’s how I got in the game. I’ll take it, whatever it takes.”