After watching much of their depleted offensive line unravel against Cincinnati, the Dolphins now face another potential problem Sunday:
They must jump-start a sputtering offense, and protect Ryan Tannehill, against a Bears defense that’s first in rushing yards allowed per game, second in the league in sacks, third in points relinquished and total defense and features among the league’s most impactful defensive players, Khalil Mack, who has five sacks and four forced fumbles.
And the Dolphins, already without starting linemen Josh Sitton and Daniel Kilgore for the season, aren’t sure if starting left tackle Laremy Tunsil will be available.
Tunsil remains in the concussion protocol and was again a limited participant in practice Thursday.
With Tunsil unable to work in team drills, Zach Sterup said he shared first-team left tackle snaps with Sam Young, who struggled mightily when he replaced Tunsil last week.
Offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said it’s a competition between those two this week, and Gase will decide a starter if Tunsil cannot play.
Sterup played two games at left tackle and two games at right tackle in preseason.
“He’s always done a good job in practice,” coach Adam Gase said. “I know the defensive line always talks about how long he is and how hard he is to get around. I know William Hayes has said since the first day he got here, ‘When that guy punches you, you feel it.’ We were able to play him last year at the end of the year, which was good. So we’ve actually seen him in game action.”
Right tackle Ja’Wuan James will have his hands full with Mack. “He’s done a good job but we need a little bit more consistency,” Loggains said.
THIS AND THAT
Defensive end Cam Wake (knee) and cornerback Bobby McCain (knee) both sat out practice and seven players were limited: Tunsil, receivers Jakeem Grant (shoulder) and DeVante Parker (quadriceps), defensive end Andre Branch (knee), tight end A.J. Derby (foot), linebacker Chase Allen (foot) and tight end Durham Smythe (ankle).
▪ Though Dolphins skill position players have struggled at times to get space from defenders, Gase made the point Thursday that Grant “is one guy that’s always creating separation at the line of scrimmage. He’s a tough guy for defensive backs to get their hands on.”
▪ The Dolphins played defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick 42 of 60 defensive snaps last week and that’s been pretty reflective of the first-round rookie’s playing time.
Defensive coordinator Matt Burke said the Dolphins aren’t inclined to play him every down because “we are putting a lot on Minkah right now.
“We are conscious of not putting even more on his plate too much too soon. We are plugging him in at both safety spots and nickel. He’s a good player.
“We obviously want our good players on the field. But there’s a little bit of diminishing returns if there’s too much on his plate. We’re giving him what we think he can handle.”
▪ The Dolphins have been using defensive end Charles Harris inside on third down packages.
“His speed causes problems,” Gase said. “Guards and centers like the slower moving guys.”
▪ Gase said tight end Mike Gesicki’s route running “has been good. He’s made a lot of strides in blocking.”
Nick O’Leary, who shared snaps with Gesicki against Cincinnati, said his grandfather, golf legend Jack Nicklaus, attended the Dolphins’ game in Cincinnati on Sunday. Nicklaus also attended O’Leary’s first playoff game, for the Bills at the Jaguars, this past January.
▪ The Dolphins gave rookie running back Kalen Ballage a couple of offensive snaps against Cincinnati because he has impressed in practice. “Ballage has done a really good job of becoming a pro,” Loggains said. “We’re starting to feel comfortable with him. As he continues to grow, his role will grow.”
▪ Loggains’ message to Tannehill in the wake of his three turnovers against Cincinnati: “When things are going bad, you need to eat it. You can’t let somebody else’s mistake become yours.”
▪ The Dolphins put former FSU receiver Travis Rudolph, who tore an ACL in Wednesday’s practice, on practice squad injured reserve and signing former Dolphins receiver Malcolm Lewis to the practice squad. Scott said he has been working out with Rashawn Scott and Tracy Howard, two other former Canes and former Dolphins who are looking for NFL jobs.