NEW YORK—For nearly the entire four months linebacker Chase Allen has been in the NFL, he’s been getting “dog-cussed” by his boss at every turn.
The Dolphins took a flier on Allen after he went undrafted out of Southern Illinois, and defensive coordinator Matt Burke has made it his mission to nail him for every mistake with the intention of grooming him into a pro. Perhaps that’s part of why Allen survived the final roster cut ahead.
Neither Burke nor Allen envisioned him as an opening day starter, however, and that suddenly became necessary when 11-year veteran Lawrence Timmons disappeared shortly before last weekend’s game against the Chargers. Undismayed by the unexpected snag, Burke was exuberant about Allen’s opportunity and ran up to him screaming while he did his pre-game stretching.
“This is why I’ve been (getting on you) all year,” Burke yelled as he grabbed him by the jersey. “This is why you’re here.”
There were some other words that aren’t suitable for this platform, but suffice it to say Burke launched into a raucous pep talk for about two minutes.
At the end of the rant, Allen looked up to see if Burke was done.
“OK, Coach,” Allen replied calmly, then continued on with his stretches.
That’s fairly indicative of the collective personality in the Dolphins’ linebacker corps: unfazed by commotion, undaunted by disadvantageous situations.
Almost anyone outside their building would quickly size this group up as undermanned. They dressed four linebackers last week, asking Kiko Alonso and Mike Hull to play every snap, and won’t be in much better position for Sunday’s game at the Jets.
Alonso and Hull are in line to start again, with Allen likely next in Miami needs three on the field. After that, Justin March-Lillard and recent trade acquisition Stephone Anthony are available. March-Lillard played only on special teams last week, and Anthony might not know the playbook well enough to contribute.
Meanwhile, Timmons remains suspended and Rey Maualuga has yet to play. Miami also lost second-round pick Raekwon McMillan to a torn ACL in the preseason opener.
“We’re doing well so far and we’re taking everything in stride,” said Hull, who had a team-high 10 tackles against the Chargers. “You’ve just gotta find a way to get it done with the guys you have. That’s how it’s gonna be. It’s not ideal, but you find a way.”
They got through last week holding the Chargers to 44 rushing yards but struggling a bit in pass coverage. Despite the Jets being one of the worst teams in the league, they present a challenge with two-time Pro Bowl running back Matt Forte and others. They put up 126 rushing yards in their loss to the Raiders a week ago.
Through all the tumult, Alonso has risen as a somewhat surprising leader. This is a guy who played on three teams in his first four years, then something clicked with the Dolphins last season and he became their unquestioned “alpha dog,” as Burke put it and signed a four-year $28.9 million extension last offseason.
“Kiko’s really grown into his role, obviously, knowing he’s going to be here long term and that he’s part of what we’re doing,” Burke said. “He takes those guys, and Kiko’s level of communication and direction has been awesome, so he’s really helped… They feed off of his energy, and he does a good job of getting everybody lined up. That’s a confident group.”
The belief is so strong in that part of the locker room that they enjoy hearing criticisms that they’re too small, not good enough and there aren’t enough of them—all of which might be valid.
Hull, Allen, March-Lillard had a combined six career starts before this season. Pittsburgh had younger players it liked better than Timmons, and New Orleans seemed eager to unload Anthony. Neither Alonso nor Hull, the top two at the position for now, are much bigger than Dolphins safety Reshad Jones.
But their best trait is that none of it bothers them.
“People can think that stuff, but we know what we can do,” Allen said. “We just go out there on Sundays and prove people wrong.”
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