DAVIE — The Dolphins think they’re loaded with talent in the secondary. If that’s true, that’s the first step. The next one is figure out how to use all those assets.
The back end of the defense looked like it’d fit together straightforwardly until the surprise draft pick of safety Minkah Fitzpatrick at No. 10 overall a month ago. Miami believes it caught a break when he slipped that far and couldn’t resist taking someone of his caliber, but the team already had two highly paid, established safeties in Reshad Jones and T.J. McDonald.
The coaches have been vague about how they think those pieces will fit together, and the Dolphins don’t appear to have sorted that out over the first week-plus of Organized Team Activities.
“We’ve got some good players out there,” McDonald said. “We’ll get the best players on the field and go from there.
“I think it’s a good mix, but it’s still early. We haven’t really done too much. One thing we are doing is just making sure we all know both safety positions and as we continue to progress through OTAs, more packages and more things will come in and we’ll grow as a group from there.”
With Jones’ massive contract and the investment of such a high selection in Fitzpatrick, McDonald appears to be in the most precarious position. That’s purely speculation at this point, though. The team hasn’t communicated anything along those lines to McDonald or said anything in the past month that indicated he’s a trade candidate.
The other theory is that he might move to linebacker, which coach Adam Gase said isn’t in the plans. He left the door open for anything, though, by saying, “You keep working guys at the positions that you think fit them best and then when things start sorting themselves out and you have to make an adjustment, you make it then.”
McDonald, 27, came to the Dolphins as a free agent a year ago after four promising seasons with the Rams. He signed a cheap, one-year deal with the team knowing he’d be on NFL suspension the first eight games, but the organization was so impressed by what he did in his first few months on the practice field that it extended him for $24 million over four years.
Is that a regret now? The combination of him and Jones at the back end during the second half of last season wasn’t a perfect match, and regardless of the team’s “best talent available” line on Fitzpatrick, they didn’t pick him that high to keep him on the bench. He’s spoken with the coaching staff about its plans for him, but it was a fairly standard offseason meeting, not a dramatic confrontation.
“Anything we talk about, we usually keep in house, but it’s nothing like that,” McDonald said. “Nothing crazy. I control what I can control and everything else will take care of itself. I’m gonna play a lot of ball. Reshad’s played a lot of ball. Minkah’s a great player. I think that we can all make it work. However it works out, it’ll take care of itself.”
In eight games, McDonald had 45 tackles, three pass breakups and an interception.
Jones, 30, played all 16 games and reestablished himself as one of the Dolphins’ most impactful defenders. He had three fumble recoveries (two of which went for touchdowns), two interceptions, three pass breakups and 122 tackles as he earned his second Pro Bowl appearance.
McDonald has built his reputation on being a big hitter more so than as a first-rate coverage safety, and at 6-foot-2, 223 pounds his body suits that type of role. However, one thing working in the Dolphins’ favor as they get their defense in place is his willingness to do whatever’s asked.
“I’ve been in the box, whether you’re in the box or strong side or weak side,” he said. “You’ve gotta be able to be versatile and do it all. I can do a lot of things. I can play deep, play in the box, whatever the case may be.”
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