DAVIE—The Dolphins have yet to unleash powerful safety T.J. McDonald on the world, but his teammates know exactly the kind of weapon that will finally be in play.
McDonald has served his eight-game suspension and will return Monday at Carolina, almost certainly as a starter, and he gives Miami a menacing presence lurking in the secondary.
“From what I’ve seen, he’s a very smart, fierce, (expletive) hard-hitting person that you would want on your side of the ball,” linebacker Rey Maualuga said. “I’m just excited to have him back. He’ll intensify the defense that much more with his presence in the lineup.”
While they waited for him, the Dolphins played Nate Allen. That ended when Allen suffered a season-ending injury, leaving Michael Thomas and undrafted rookie Maurice Smith to fill the safety spot next to Reshad Jones.
McDonald, who played his first four seasons with the Rams, signed a one-year deal with the Dolphins in the offseason and turned that into a four-year extension by impressing them on the practice field. Including this season, he’s under contract for $25.4 million through 2021.
Miami loved what it saw from him in the offseason program and preseason, which was the last time he was allowed to practice or play. During his suspension, McDonald trained, went to meetings and studied film to stay up to date. He was not permitted to practice with the team until now.
Still, his teammates have seen enough to know he’s a significant asset.
“Man, I’m excited about T.J. coming back,” Ndamukong Suh said. “He’s gonna have fresh legs, so he should be running all over the field and having fun. He’s an elite DB that has the ability to play in the box, as well as in coverage.
“I think in preseason and really in camp when I had a chance to be on the field with him at the same time, he just finds the ball and makes plays. I’m excited for him to come out there and be able to do that.”
McDonald has not officially been added to the roster, but will be before Monday’s game. The Dolphins are at the 53-man limit and will need to cut someone to make room for him.
The defense could use a boost after the last three weeks. During that stretch, which included losses to the Ravens and Raiders, Miami allowed 95 points and 946 yards. Over the first five games, the defense gave up an average of 16.8 points and 295.4 yards.
The Dolphins have been particularly bad in pass coverage and are coming off a game in which Derek Carr completed 21 of 30 passes for 300 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
The Dolphins rank 31st in opponent completion percentage (69.9), 22nd in yards per attempt (7.5) and 14th in passing yards per game (221). They have the third-fewest interceptions (three) in the NFL.
Adding McDonald to the mix can only help.
“Tenacious football player, big hitter, smart,” linebacker Mike Hull said. “Great guy to be around. Having him in the locker room and being around him, he’s a great leader. He’s willing to take guys to the next level with him, which is cool to see.”
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