Armando Salguero

Reshad Jones return signals grand possibilities for Miami Dolphins

A snapshot in time: The Dolphins are in the middle of a red zone drill during one of their OTA practices this week and on this play, receiver Kenny Stills is going to run a corner route to the front pylon of the end zone while everyone else clears out. That means the coverage will dictate quarterback Ryan Tannehill likely will throw it to Stills who will be drawing man coverage.

And the offense gets the look it wants, and better perhaps, because rather than a cornerback covering Stills, he’s matched up against a safety. This should be a win for the offense. If the pattern is good and the throw is good, this is going to be a touchdown.

So the pattern is good.

And the throw is good.

Except the safety is Reshad Jones.

And Jones covers Stills better than most cornerbacks could. And when the ball gets ready to settle in Stills’s hands, Jones knocks it away.

The defense celebrates.

The Miami Dolphins missed Reshad Jones late last season. I mean, really missed him.

That is sometimes overlooked because the Dolphins went on a playoff march after Jones injured his shoulder against Pittsburgh in mid October. But teammates know he was missed. And coaches know better than anyone he was missed.

Jones, earlier this week fully cleared medically from the shoulder injury and surgery that knocked him out of action, missed them, too.

“It was kind of brutal for me but I was happy for my guys that we made the playoffs finally and made that push,” Jones said this week. “But it hurt for me.

“Now I’m pretty excited. I watched the playoff run with our guys last year and I wasn’t out there, so I’m pretty excited to be back and to be able to help our team win some football games.”

The Dolphins have plans for Jones. Yes, he’s still going to be a box safety part of the time. Yes, he’s still going to get a chance to freelance sometimes to make plays both near and away from the line of scrimmage. And yes, there are other possibilities the team will experiment with over the coming months before the regular season that I cannot tell you about.

But suffice to say a player that improves the run defense because he rallies to the ball like the dickens, improves the pass defense because he covers like you just read earlier, and improves the overall athletic prowess of the defense because he’s big and fast and finds the football is truly valuable.

Obviously the Dolphins think so which is the reason they paid Jones that $60 million contract in March that includes $35 million in guaranteed money.

“I always felt like I’m one of the best safeties in the league and I still feel that way,” Jones said. “I just want to continue to do that and go out and prove it.

“Numbers don’t lie. My numbers are top of the line of all of them, if we look at the numbers. I don’t really worry about that now. The contract is behind me. Everything is cool. I’ll be here for a while. My main focus is to go out and do everything I can to help this team win some football games.”

Part of doing that this season involves Jones finding chemistry with not one but two potential impact free safeties. The Dolphins have put free agent addition Nate Allen as the starter in the back end to clean up any tackles the other 10 defenders don’t make. Allen’s job is to be the last line of defense protecting the goal line. And the Dolphins have T.J. McDonald, suspended the first eight games of the season, waiting in the wings come November.

So Jones has to find some chemistry with not one but two potential fellow safeties who will be playing a lot late in the year.

“You all know Reshad is ... his play speaks for itself,” Allen said. “He’s who he is for a reason and he’s the guy. He makes a lot of plays and he’s just a great playmaker. I can see it early and I’ve watched him through the years. As I’ve been other places, I’ve always watched him on tape. He stands out. He’s a prolific playmaker and he practices hard. He helps out the young guys in the classroom. We just kind of feed off each other.

“We’re still kind of picking each other’s brains and getting a feel for how each other moves and how each other thinks in certain situations. We’re going to make each other better.”

Getting comfortable with a new safety partner is not new for Jones. He’s played with eight other safeties during his time with the Dolphins.

“It’s going pretty good,” Jones said. “[Allen] is a veteran guy in the league so we complement each other well. He’s played a lot of football. I think he fits right in. We both played a lot of football and have a lot of snaps so it’s cool.”

It’s “cool” Dolphins coaches believe they got a huge valuable addition for 2017 because the way they see it, they made the playoffs while piecing together a jigsaw puzzle in the back end -- signing Bacarri Rambo off the street, forcing Michael Thomas into the lineup.

Not having perhaps the team’s biggest playmaker from the ‘15 season in Jones made the situation worse.

That is changing now. The Dolphins, in need of playmakers throughout the roster, rightly see themselves as getting a big one back for 2017.

And they’re seeing that already in OTA practices.

Follow Armando Salguero on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero

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