Dolphins wide receiver DeVante Parker and center Mike Pouncey remained absent from practice Thursday, but the team is still hopeful one or both might be able to play on Sunday against the New York Jets.
Although Pouncey remains in the NFL concussion protocol and will be listed as a did not practice, he has clearly advanced and improved within the protocol. He participated in some physical activity Thursday on his own under the guidance of the athletic training staff.
Parker, who missed last week’s game at Atlanta is walking without a limp, but the ankle is not yet stable for full activity. Dolphins coach Adam Gase said Parker remains “day-to-day.”
“We still keep holding out hope where he’s had some Lazarus experiences out there where he comes back from the dead,” said offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen. “It’s harder without him, but we just fill in and go.”
If Parker recovers sufficiently the next three days, the Dolphins could potentially just have a package for Parker to limit his exposure to re-injury while still taking advantage of his availability in a limited way.
Cornerback Xavien Howard, who did not practice Wednesday with an ankle injury, returned to practice on a limited basis on Thursday.
Running back Jay Ajayi missed practice Thursday and will be listed as nursing a knee injury on the injury report. But Ajayi got his usual day of rest, and his absence was not really related to his knee.
Andre Branch, who missed Wednesday’s practice with an knee issue, returned to practice Thursday and is expected to play Sunday against the New York Jets barring an unforeseen setback.
LIFT AT LINEBACKER
Last season the linebacker corps was a mess for the Dolphins. The group was solid (not great) early, and then it broke down with injuries to Koa Misi and Jelani Jenkins The level of play dropped dramatically.
This season the team has had similar injury issues, but the group is playing extremely well now.
Misi is out for the season again as is rookie second-round pick Raekwon McMillan, but the group Miami is putting on the field has been outstanding.
Kiko Alonso is the anchor and playing very well, Lawrence Timmons has been outstanding since his early season AWOL episode and the addition of Rey Maualuga as the middle linebacker has added a physical nature to the group it didn’t have before.
“He has great instincts and he’s a pretty good tackler,” Gase said of Timmons.
“We feel comfortable with the guys who are playing for us,” defensive coordinator Matt Burke said. “We’ve kind of gelled a little bit and had some success there. But like every other group, we’re getting the other guys ready.”
The Dolphins are happy with their current starters, but Burke made the point he wants to be ready in case the linebacker corps is hit with another round of injuries.
“I did experience it last year what we had to go through in moving guys around and plugging guys in to different roles,” said Burke, who was the linebacker coach last season. “And so we feel good about our depth there, too. Mike Hull has some playing experience, and Chase [Allen] has and [Stephone Anthony] has been getting into it a little bit and we’re getting him going.
“So you feel good about the first snap of the game and having three linebackers who have played but after that, who knows what’s going to happen. We’re happy with the way they’ve played but we’re getting all those guys ready to go for whatever comes down the road.”
DROPPING THE BALL
The Dolphins have made catching the football a point of emphasis the past two weeks as they’ve dropped 10 passes. We know that.
But why are these guys dropping the passes? What is the explanation?
“I don’t have one,” Christensen said. “ I do know this, you just keep trying. .. You keep drilling it and emphasizing it. It sounds like an excuse, but the more Jay gets comfortable with these guys and these guys get comfortable with Jay, it will work out.”
THIS AND THAT
▪ There was a series during the Atlanta game on Sunday when the Dolphins had three rookie defensive linemen (Charles Harris, Davon Godchaux and Vincent Taylor) were all in the game.
Burke turned to defensive line coach Terrell Williams and asked, “What are you doing to me?”
▪ Jake Brendel, who took over at center position for Pouncey when he sustained a concussion, did a good job, according to Christensen and was “three plays away from playing great.” ... Terrence Fede has done a fine job this year in both punt rush and field-goal rush plays this season, according to special teams coach Darren Rizzi. ... Burke said his defensive unit “is really dialed in” on details this year but added, “there’s a lot of work to be done,” to make the defense an elite unit.
▪ The Dolphins’ offensive line that has been criticized because it seemingly never can solve its guard issues is 12th in the NFL this season in sacks allowed. That’s good. This is better ... since Week 6 of the 2016 season the Miami offensive line has allowed 23 sacks, and that is tied for the second fewest in the NFL during that time.
The Steelers’ line has allowed 22 for the best mark in the NFL.
This is a striking stat considering the perception of trouble up front for the group and also the recent controversy involving offensive line coach Chris Foerster and his resignation.
Follow Armando Salguero on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero