The Dolphins’ linebacker unit, which they thought had been sufficiently addressed during this offseason, has provided a slew of storylines this season, few of them good.
And there was more news on Wednesday:
• Neville Hewitt, who was on the team’s 53-man roster the previous two seasons, was promoted from the practice squad to the 53.
• Coordinator Matt Burke indicated he was happy with how Chase Allen played at middle linebacker on Sunday after the release of Rey Maualuga, stopping short of saying the job is Allen’s permanently but suggesting he has no reason to make a change.
• Encouraged by Stephone Anthony’s Dolphins debut last Sunday, Burke indicated he wants to continue getting him work as soon as his injured knee heals. (Anthony did not practice Wednesday.)
The Dolphins have dealt with considerable tumult at the position since August. Koa Misi and Raekwon McMillan were lost for the season before September rolled around, Lawrence Timmons went AWOL for the opener and was suspended for a game, Rey Maualuga was signed and then cut last weekend after being arrest for alleged assault at a Miami nightclub.
Meanwhile, the linebackers have been torched in pass coverage, allowing 79 percent of the passes thrown against them to be completed for 9.9 yards per catch. Though Kiko Alonso has allowed the most passing yards of any linebacker in the league, according to Pro Football Focus, Burke defended his play on Wednesday and suggested no need to change the approach with the frightening task of defending Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski looming on Sunday.
“We put a lot on Kiko,” Burke said. “We ask him to do a lot of things for us. He ends up in tough positions sometimes because we put a lot on him to do. I honestly think he’s been pretty good. He had a couple of busts last week. In general he does a good job. I am happy with the way he’s performed so far.”
As for Allen, Burke was pleased with his 30 snaps last week. Allen went undrafted out of Southern Illinois but signed with Miami as an undrafted free agent and led the NFL in preseason tackles.
“Chase did a good job – second time for him he’s been thrust into a starting spot unexpectedly,” Burke said. “Got a big head on him and runs and hits. He did a good job. Chase didn’t do anything to discourage me the way he played but we will always try to find the right fits and right matchups.
Burke decided to use Anthony last week for the first time since Miami in September traded a fifth-round pick to New Orleans to acquire the former first round pick. Anthony replaced Timmons on some traditional passing downs, and Burke admitted that getting Timmons some rest was a factor but not the overriding one.
“I had been watching Steph on the scout team and really liked the way he had been practicing,” Burke said. “My argument for getting him involved is he is big young player that can run and hit and has some fresh legs. I felt it would benefit that crew to [have] a fresher athlete to do some coverage stuff and close some space. He was doing a good job. I don’t think it was specific to Lawrence. It was me saying we can use some of the things Steph can do athletically.”
Anthony is nursing a knee injury and his status for Sunday is in question. “He’s day to day and we will go through the week we will see how he is,” Burke said.
As for Hewitt, the Dolphins signed him an an undrafted free agent in 2015 and he appeared in 32 games with seven starts, racking up 67 tackles, one sack, one interception, four passes defended and one fumble recovery in his NFL career.
He was on Miami’s practice squad the past six weeks after being cut in early September because of a shoulder injury that sidelined him all of preseason.
Burke suggested Hewitt will have a legitimate shot to compete for playing time.
“I am proud of Nev the way he worked to get himself back,” Burke said. “When we released Neville in preseason, he had a tough deal where he got banged up, timing issue. We couldn’t hold a spot for him. Literally the last thing I told him was get your body right and keep working and there will be another opportunity. I am excited to see him get a chance.”