Miami Dolphins’ special teams are now Walt Aikens’ show

Dolphins DB Walt Aikens celebrates after scoring a defensive two-point conversion on a blocked extra-point attempt by Arizona kicker Chandler Catanzaro in 2016. (Bill Ingram / The Palm Beach Post)

(Note: This continues a series in Daily Dolphin spotlighting members of the team individually. In addition to reliving highlights and lowlights of the past season for each, we’ll provide analysis and criticism, plus take a look at how each player fits — or doesn’t fit — into the team’s plans for 2018.)

[RELATED: Don’t miss our exclusive photos from Dolphins OTAs in Davie]

DB Walt Aikens

Height, weight: 6-1, 212

College: Liberty

Age: 27 when season starts

Experience: Entering fifth season, all with the Dolphins

Acquired: Fourth-round draft pick in 2014

Contract: Re-signed to a two-year contract worth $2.7 million

Pro Football Focus rank: None

In 2017

Stats: Made seven tackles on special teams; downed five punts inside the 20-yard line

Notable moments: Had two special teams tackles and forced a fumble on a punt return at New England. The fumble was by Danny Amendola, who’s now a Dolphin, but the Patriots recovered.

Straight talk: The Dolphins say when they sliced up their salary cap, they quickly determined they could retain Walt Aikens or Michael Thomas but not both players who contributed heavily to their success on special teams the past few years.

By choosing Aikens, they went with a player a year younger and $1.3 million cheaper over the next two years.

By not choosing Thomas, they let go to the Giants the Pro Football Focus special teams player of the year, who twice contended for the AFC special teams Pro Bowl slot.

So now it’s Aikens’ show, with every indication that he’ll be named successor to Thomas as special teams captain.

“I think Walt is a guy that we’re going to see really step up in a leadership role this year,” coach Adam Gase said. “I don’t know if anybody can really replace Mike as far as his leadership goes and his ability to make plays was outstanding. He’s a tackling machine.”

There shouldn’t be much doubt what the athletic Aikens can do as well. He caught fire late in the 2016 season, blocking a punt and returning it for a touchdown and scoring a defensive two-point conversion on a blocked extra point.

Prospects for 2018

Aikens will need to be a leader on Darren Rizzi’s revamped special teams units. He seldom gets on the field on defense, which may continue to be the case in 2018.

Aikens has often worked at safety but admitted last year he was happy to be told he was moving to cornerback, his college position.

The Dolphins currently list him at both positions, but where his focus will be is murky because of all the changes in the secondary. In addition to the first-round pick being spent on S Minkah Fitzpatrick, the Dolphins get CB Tony Lippett back from an Achilles injury and will tinker with S T.J. McDonald at LB or as a hybrid player.

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