Dolphins nuggets on a Friday:
• The Dolphins have a “big” problem. Literally. And it’s one familiar to their suffering fan base.
The Dolphins must hope what 6-5 Raiders tight end Jared Cook did to their defense last Sunday night isn’t a harbinger. Cook caught nine passes for 126 yards, repeatedly finding open creases in the defense, primarily against Kiko Alonso.
The Dolphins won’t need to face Greg Olsen, one of the NFL’s most productive tight ends, on Monday because he’s on injured reserve (though he reportedly might return in Week 12).
But over the second half of the season, they will be facing a bunch of big tight ends who likely will prove problematic:
• Though Olsen is out, Carolina still has 6-4 Ed Dickson, whose 15.9 average per catch (22 for 349) ranks 10th in the league among all tight ends.
• The following Sunday against Tampa Bay, the Dolphins must stop both 6-5 Cameron Brate, whose 32 catches (for 414 yards and four touchdowns) is 12th in the league and impressive 6-6 rookie O.J. Howard ranks eighth in yards per catch at 16.2 (14 catches, 227 yards, three touchdowns).
• And then comes the first of two games against the NFL’s most feared tight end, 6-6 Rob Gronkowski, who has 34 catches for 509 yards and five touchdowns. And, by the way, the Patriots this week also added 6-6 Martellus Bennett, who had 24 catches for 233 catches for Green Bay before he was released this week.
• Miami also has two games against Buffalo and 6-3 tight end Charles Clay, the former Dolphin who has 20 catches for 258 yards. He hopes to play against New Orleans this weekend after missing time with a knee injury.
• And, oh yes, the Dolphins also must defend Kansas City’s 6-5 Travis Kelce, who leads all NFL tight ends with 51 catches (for 629 yards and five touchdowns).
Good luck with all of that.
On Friday, I asked defensive coordinator Matt Burke which of his linebackers and safeties is best equipped to slow big tight ends in pass coverage.
“I feel good about a lot of our guys,” he said. “Last week we were mixing guys up. I feel good about Kiko [Alonso] and Lawrence [Timmons] and TJ [McDonald] and Reshad [Jones]. I thought last week I didn’t feel we did a good job but we didn’t do a good job of taking the information we give these guys and putting it on the field.”
Burke said there were two other major issues to explain Miami’s inability to cover Cook.
“We talked a lot about not wanting to give [Cook] free space – we wanted to disrupt off the line a little bit more than we did,” Burke said. “I was disappointed we didn’t execute that. He’s a big man, tough to keep up with. We wanted to take it away before it got to that point. We didn’t do a good job putting hands on the line of scrimmage and disrupt his releases.”
And Burke said this was the other problem: “We were getting a little too [close] on shorter routes and let him get behind us. We were getting too jumpy on some shorter routes. We have to execute the scouting report side of the game plan better.”
OFFENSIVE LINE UPDATE
• Coach Adam Gase said he hopes to get clarity by late Friday about the injury and timetable for right tackle Ja’Wuan James. The Dolphins have said this could be a longterm hamstring injury.
Is offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen concerned about facing the NFL’s top-ranked defense on Monday with one starter who hasn’t played a down all season (left guard Ted Larsen) and another (Jesse Davis) who is poised to make his first start at right tackle?
“I don’t know if worried is the right word,” he said. “It’s not ideal. It’s the way the league is right now. The veteran guys come back and get it back quickly. I hope that will be the case with Ted. Confidence in Jesse Davis is high.”
Still, Christensen admitted playing in a salary cap era prevents the Dolphins and other teams from necessarily having the ideal scenario in place to replace injured starting offensive linemen.
Regarding Davis, “you would rather go a year without an inexperienced guy starting for half of a season. You would like to have veteran backups and guys with experience. But with the salary cap, you will have to depend on guys without a ton of reps under their belt. In an ideal world, it wouldn’t happen.
“Jesse is young. He’s a conscientious guy. He’s a big, long guy. He’s suited to play tackle. I wish we had a couple of JV games first and we could slip into a JV game Saturday afternoon before we play Monday.”
RUNNING BACK TALK
The Dolphins gave 37 snaps to Kenyan Drake and 30 to Damien Williams, and Gase said the playing time and usage for both was about right.
“We thought it would be close to 50-50,” Gase said. “Damien’s role, whether it be on first and second down, we were trying to make sure we didn’t load up one guy. It helped keep those guys fairly fresh – Damien was going a little bit more on special teams. The amount of effort he exerts takes a lot out of him. He is wiped out after the game. We have got to do a good job of balancing it out.”
Asked what Drake needs to do get the staff’s confidence after a damaging fumble last week, Gase said: “Drake has got our confidence. The majority of things he did this last game was what we were looking for. We would like him to hold onto the ball. He’s going to be learning through the rest of the season. He has to stay on the track he’s on right now.”
Christensen said: “We need to get the third guy [No. 3 running back Sinorise Perry] working a little bit. It’s hard to make it through a whole season without one of those guys having a hiccup on two. We have to have him ready to go also.”
Perry didn’t play an offensive snap against Oakland.