Barry Jackson

Hull poised to start if Alonso cannot; Dolphins nuggets

Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill celebrates on the sideline after throwing the winning touchdown in the final seconds of the fourth quarter as they defeat the Los Angeles Rams at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles, California, Nov. 20, 2016.
Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill celebrates on the sideline after throwing the winning touchdown in the final seconds of the fourth quarter as they defeat the Los Angeles Rams at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles, California, Nov. 20, 2016. ctrainor@miamiherald.com

A six-pack of Dolphins notes on a Wednesday:

• Mike Hull is the Dolphins’ smallest linebacker, factoring in height (6-0) and weight (233).

On Sunday, he could be their most important, if Kiko Alonso cannot play because of hamstring and thumb injuries.

Alonso did not speak with reporters on Wednesday but Adam Gase said he’s more concerned about Alonso’s hamstring than his thumb, which was surgically repaired on Monday.

That means Hull could be thrust into a major role, asked to play more snaps on defense Sunday than he has all season (28).

Gase said unequivocally Wednesday that Hull will be the middle linebacker against visiting Arizona if Alonso can’t play.

Despite leading the Big 10 in tackles with 140 as a senior at Penn State and earning eight All-American recognitions, Hull went undrafted in 2015, largely because of his small stature.

He said that still drives him. “It definitely fuels me every day,” he said. “This league is about proving yourself.”

The Dolphins signed and cut him twice last season, but he made the team this season because of his special teams acumen (Darren Rizzi says he and Michael Thomas have been Miami’s best players in coverage) and because he showed improvement as a linebacker.

He performed capably when Alonso left the game for 20-plus snaps last week.

Adam Beasley, Miami Herald's Miami Dolphins reporter, recaps the Dolphins' loss to the Baltimore Ravens on Dec. 4, 2016.

"He did a great job,” Gase said. “His instincts are off the charts. You see how quickly he reacts compared to everyone else. He's one of those guys that has that ability to see things happen before they happen. I've always enjoyed watching him play, because you see a guy that absolutely just sells out. You see him flying around, making some of those tackles. He gives you everything he has."

Hull said former Dolphins linebacker Zach Thomas, also considered a small linebacker, “was one of my favorite players growing up.”

Hull’s strengths? “I play hard and use my instincts to find the ball.”

The question is how will he do against the run.

“We’ll find out this week, facing one of the best backs in the league,” Hull said.

• As for Alonso, “we’re taking it slow,” Gase said. “The bigger concern [than the thumb] is the hamstring. That’s the one part that’s a little up in the air. He’s not going to be 100 percent,” but the goal is to get him as “close to healthy as we can at game time.”

Though Alonso doesn’t need to wear a big club on his hand, the problem – Gase said – is “you don’t have use of your thumb. It’s not an ideal thing for someone who has to tackle.”

Alonso was one of four players who sat out practice. The others: Jelani Jenkins (knee/hand), center Mike Pouncey (hip) and receiver Jarvis Landry (personal reasons).

Andre Branch, Miami Dolphins DE, says they failed to stop the Baltimore Ravens in their victory over the Fins on Dec. 4, 2016.

• Cornerback Xavien Howard, who has missed eight games after knee surgery, was limited in practice and was non-committal about whether he would play Sunday.

Gase said it was encouraging that Howard “moved around well on the turf” on Wednesday after not feeling ready for that the past two weeks.

Gase said whether he plays Sunday is “more on him, how he feels.”

Howard said he simply isn’t sure if he’s ready play and needs to be “more careful” than some others because this was his second surgery on the same knee in six months.

“Still working to see how it feels,” Howard said. “Just moving on it takes time. I haven’t had any setback.”

• Also limited in practice Wednesday: DeVante Parker, Isa Abdul-Quddus, Branden Albert, Kenyan Drake, Earl Mitchell, Kraig Urbik and Mario Williams.

“I’ll figure out Sunday how to help my team,” said Albert, who played well against Baltimore just two weeks after wrist surgery.

• Gase is understandably concerned with stopping Arizona running back David Johnson, one of only two players in history to produce at least 100 yards from scrimmage in the first 12 games of the season.

“It’s going to be tough,” Gase said. “It’s got to be a group effort…. Toughest challenge we’ve had because of their ability to push the ball downfield. There’s a lot of weapons for them to use.”

Here’s a map of who’s getting Sunday’s Dolphins-Arizona game, which will be called by Fox’s Chris Myers and Ronde Barber.

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