Miami Dolphins

Dannell Ellerbe’s long recovery leaves future with Dolphins in doubt

Dolphins linebacker Dannell Ellerbe looks on during the season opener against the New England Patriots on Sept. 7, 2014, when he sustained a season-ending hip injury..
Dolphins linebacker Dannell Ellerbe looks on during the season opener against the New England Patriots on Sept. 7, 2014, when he sustained a season-ending hip injury.. AP

Ten weeks after Dannell Ellerbe “messed [his hip] up pretty bad,” the Dolphins linebacker is walking without crutches but not yet able to run.

Ellerbe, who sustained the season-ending injury in the season opener, appeared with teammates at the team’s charity Thanksgiving shopping spree Monday night.

Although Ellerbe would not divulge the specifics of his injury, he did say that the damage went far beyond just a torn hip flexor, as he initially thought.

Ellerbe said he’s “ahead of schedule” and vowed to be back healthy by the start of the 2015 season. However, participating in spring OTAs might be pushing things, he added. Ellerbe has been walking without crutches for three weeks but is not yet able to jog.

Whether a roster spot will still be there for Ellerbe when he returns is an entirely different matter. Ellerbe would count $9.9 million against the 2015 salary cap if he’s on the team — and $5.7 million less if he is not. Ellerbe can probably expect the Dolphins to ask him to take a pay cut if they still see him in their plans.

Working against him: the emergence of second-year Jelani Jenkins, who has excelled as Ellerbe’s replacement. Pro Football Focus ranks Jenkins as the league’s fourth-best 4-3 outside linebacker; the second-year pro has limited quarterbacks to a 73.1 passer rating when they target him. And Jenkins’ 2015 cap number? Just $700,000.

“It’s been killing me,” Ellerbe said of sitting out. “I want to be out there with those guys. I think the last time I sat out a season was fifth grade, because I was being bad in school. ... We’re getting better every game. It looks like [quarterback Ryan] Tannehill is more comfortable, our defense is playing great. The sky’s the limit right now.”

DEEP-PASS WOES

The Dolphins’ longest offensive touchdown this year is 21 yards, a fact brought up to coach Joe Philbin more than once during his Tuesday visit with reporters. The stat illustrates how ineffective the Dolphins have been throwing downfield.

Tannehill has completed just 8 of 31 passes thrown 20 yards or longer this year; his passer rating on attempts of that distance is 42.3.

“There are a lot of different ways to score,” Philbin said. “Sometimes, on a run, it’s breaking tackles, multiple tackles. Sometimes, it’s connecting on deep passes or breaking an intermediate catch. I’ve been around places, it’s happened I’m sure to all of us, slants have gone 70 yards for touchdowns sometimes, three-step drops, on occasion. They haven’t this year for us yet, but I’m sure we’ll get our share.”

DENVER MEMORY

Mike Wallace is one of the few current Dolphins who has played in Denver. He did so three times with the Steelers, including early in the 2011 playoffs.

You might remember that AFC wild-card game for this reason: then-Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow connected with Demaryius Thomas for a game-ending 80-yard pass on the first play of overtime.

“We got Tebowed,” Wallace quipped Tuesday.

THIS AND THAT

▪ While talking to his team Tuesday, Philbin reminded them that it will be cold Sunday, and the air is thin.

“I also mentioned that those are things we really don’t control,” he said. “They’re not moving Earth to lower the altitude, and the weather will be what the weather is. My point to the team was let’s control what we control, and that’s how well we prepare for this game and what effort we bring to the game and the attitude we bring to the game.”

▪ Running back Jonas Gray, who spent his rookie season with the Dolphins but was never activated because of injury, is the talk of the league after scoring four touchdowns for the Patriots on Sunday night.

But Philbin didn’t have a ton to say about the player the Dolphins cut after training camp in 2013.

“I guess he played well,” Philbin said. “I didn’t really watch the game much. ... He’s a good person, hard worker.”

▪ Linebacker Koa Misi missed Tuesday’s practice to be with his wife Lisa, who gave birth to the couple’s child. Linebacker Jonathan Freeny, who injured his hamstring during the Bills game, did not practice during the portion open to reporters.

▪ Daryn Colledge, who missed the last three games with a back injury, practiced Tuesday. If he plays Sunday in Denver, Colledge would presumably slide back into the starting lineup at left guard, and bounce Shelley Smith back to the bench.

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