The Dolphins hope defensive end Cameron Wake, 34 and coming off a ruptured Achilles’ tendon, will still be one of the NFL’s premier pass rushers. But he will no longer be a starter.
Jason Jones, who started all 31 games in which he appeared for the Detroit Lions the past two seasons, will replace Wake as the starter in base defense and play a large chunk of first and second downs, defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said Tuesday.
Wake has started the past 54 regular-season games he has played for Miami.
“In our first- and second-down package, which is obviously more run and mixed play-action pass, Jason Jones will be the starting end along with Mario Williams,” Joseph said. “Cam will be used some on first and second down but mostly in pass rush situations."
When the Dolphins were pursuing free agent defensive linemen in free agency, they conveyed that they envisioned Wake transitioning into a pass rush specialist role. But for the first time, the Dolphins said that publicly Tuesday.
"I think if we chose to, he could be a starter on every down,” Joseph said. “But I think, just keeping him healthy and allowing him to be a dominant pass rusher - taking some downs off of him - makes us better and allows him to be fresher for 16 weeks…. So Cameron, not playing a lot of first and second down reps, when the game is on the line, he can finish it for us."
The Dolphins believe Jones, 30, will be stout against the run. Miami was 28th in run defense last season.
"I think the front is a lot better at playing the run,” said Joseph, who’s in his first year with Miami. “When you're an attack front and you've got a bunch of pass rushers, they want to rush the passer. They don't want to talk about the run game.
“From OTAs to the first part of (training) camp until now, I feel very comfortable with the run defense. I wasn't during the spring and I wasn't early on in camp, but I feel better about it now because now they're focusing on both.”
Center Mike Pouncey (hip), linebacker Jelani Jenkins (knee) and receiver DeVante Parker (hamstring) missed the portion of practice open to the media, decreasing the chances of them playing Sunday. Gase said he would like players, in general, to practice one day in order for them to play.
Miami will practice Wednesday, fly to Seattle on Thursday, and practice on Friday.
Joseph said if Jenkins doesn’t play, Spencer Paysinger would be the starter in base defense and Koa Misi would stay in the game “in our sub nickel package.”
Anthony Steen would replace Pouncey at center. Gase said “Steen has been great” with the line calls. “Sharp guy, picks things up quick.”
• Joseph said defensive tackle Jordan Phillips “started off really slow but came on really strong. I thought he had a hell of a preseason, as far as the games. Obviously you can see his size and his explosiveness in the run and pass game alike.
"We have four [defensive tackles] that we feel comfortable with. Most teams only have four. Between (Ndamukong) Suh, Jordan (Phillips), Earl (Mitchell) and (Julius) Warmsley, I feel very comfortable. That's what most teams have - two starters and two guys that can back up. In my mind, we have three starters.”
Gase said the Dolphins will be careful how much they play Mitchell Sunday because he’s coming off a calf injury.
• Joseph said he’s confident rookie Xavien Howard is ready to be a starting cornerback.
“He was drafted in the second round for a reason, because he's a talented guy,” Joseph said. “The spring workouts and OTAs kind of proved that he is a real talent. I was impressed then.
“Obviously missing time during training camp, that's not going to help his growth as far as being a starter Week 1. But I feel like his physical tool set and being a corner, I feel comfortable. Playing corner, there's probably three or four assignments that they have to perfect and he's done that well."
• Why is the team flying to Seattle Thursday instead of Friday or Saturday? “We thought since it was the first game of the year to give us more time out there,” Gase said. “We felt like we were on the plane throughout the day.”