The Dolphins near the midway point of the season not only with an underwhelming sack total (their 13 are tied for seventh-fewest in the league) but also without the man who accounted for seven of those 13.
Though there was no gloom and doom at Dolphins camp Monday, Derrick Shelby didn’t attempt to sugarcoat losing Cameron Wake to a season-ending Achilles injury.
“Obviously,” Shelby said, “it’s a bad situation. There is no way to match [Wake’s] production.”
So how do the Dolphins compensate for the loss of the NFL’s third-most prolific pass-rusher since 2009?
“Like I told the team, Cam Wake’s production has got to come from somewhere else,” interim coach Dan Campbell said. “It could come from the interior. It could come from another defensive end. It could come from a linebacker. … We’ll find a way to get it.”
Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, who had 8.5 sacks for Detroit last season but only two for Miami this year, will need to increase his pass-rush production. Campbell said the linebackers might rush more often, with Koa Misi well equipped for that.
But much of the burden falls on the starting defensive ends: Olivier Vernon and new starter Shelby.
Vernon had 11.5 sacks in his second NFL season (2013) but 6.5 last season and two so far in 2015. He said he feels no added pressure to replace Wake’s production but expects he will probably draw more attention from offenses now.
“We’ve got a lot of depth on this D-line,” Vernon said. “We’ll be all right.”
Campbell suggested it’s unlikely the Dolphins will shift Vernon to Wake’s side. Vernon said nobody has broached that to him.
“I don’t know if that’s the answer,” Campbell said. “I don’t want to tell you there’s no way we would do that, but obviously OV has done a really nice job on the right side. He’s comfortable there. We have a lot of confidence in Derrick Shelby and we can do some things on the other side that will help.”
Shelby has just 5.5 sacks in 3 ½ seasons, including none this season in 171 pass-rushing opportunities.
“I am not Cam Wake at all … ” he said. “Everyone plays the game to fit their own skill set. I’ve had quarterback hits; just haven’t got the sack production. But I’ll be fine. It’s a [big opportunity]. Got to make the most of it.”
But Shelby is excellent against the run and has played more snaps than Wake this season: 302 (43 per game), compared with Wake’s 265 (37.8 per game). Vernon has played 365.
Shelby, who describes himself as a “hard-nosed, gritty player,” said he does not expect his snap count to rise dramatically.
“I was playing a bunch of first- and second-down snaps; that was a way to keep Wake fresh,” Shelby said. “Other guys will have to play more plays.”
Campbell said “we’re fortunate” to have Shelby because “he’s every bit of a starter for us as a rotation-type player, so you couldn’t ask really for a better guy to come in and fill in for Wake. I have a lot of confidence in Shelby. Shelby is … fundamentally sound, an explosive athlete. He’s not the speed rusher that Cam is, but he’s going … to do a nice job.”
There will also be more opportunities for backup defensive ends Terrence Fede and Chris McCain, who has played just a handful of defensive snaps all season and moved from linebacker to defensive end a few weeks ago.
“Chris McCain can generate some speed off the edge,” Campbell said.
Campbell said right tackle Ja’Wuan James will not need toe surgery. “We’re going to let this thing heal up and we anticipate having him back in a few weeks,” Campbell said.
▪ Receiver DeVante Parker said the newest issue with his surgically-repaired left foot, which sidelined him late in Thursday’s game and kept him out of Monday’s practice, stems from scar tissue.
“I was feeling a little pain [Monday], but not severe pain,” he said. “It might hurt a couple days. Nothing serious.”
Asked about Parker’s availability for Sunday’s game at Buffalo, Campbell said: “I don’t see that being an issue.” Parker was non-committal, though.
▪ Running back Damien Williams was wearing protective covering on the hand that he injured during Thursday’s game against the Patriots but said it doesn’t prevent him from fielding kickoffs.
The Dolphins will need to clear a roster spot if they choose to active running back Jay Ajayi, who’s eligible to come off short-term injured reserve this week.
▪ Cornerback Brice McCain practiced after missing the past two games with a sprained knee.
▪ Backup quarterback Matt Moore missed practice because he’s recovering from Friday surgery to repair a broken nose sustained during a freak accident on a handoff at practice. Campbell said Moore will be available Sunday. … Safety Jordan Kovacs, who sustained a knee injury Thursday, also wasn’t at practice.
▪ Center Mike Pouncey said the offensive line played “like [garbage]” against New England.