Miami Dolphins linebackers undersized, undermanned, but getting it done

Kiko Alonso and the Dolphins’ linebackers are resolute despite their disadvantages. (Allen Eyestone/The Post)

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.”

[Polling the locker room: Dolphins players want Lawrence Timmons back]

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Miami Dolphins LB Justin March-Lillard more than an afterthought

Justin March-Lillard can still be a factor for the Dolphins at linebacker–a position where they badly need help. (Getty Images)

DAVIE—It’s been a bizarre start to the season for the Miami Dolphins, but it’s likely no one on the team has experienced more of a whirlwind few weeks than linebacker Justin March-Lillard.

He was cruising through the offseason with the Chiefs thinking he was playing some of his best football with a strong candidacy for a starting job before they waived him at the roster cut deadline. Within 24 hours, the Dolphins claimed him and launched him into a scramble.

March-Lillard immediately got down to Miami, while his wife and their infant son drove home to Ohio to be with her parents. That happens quite a bit in football—T.J. Yates went through something similar when Miami signed him late last season, and Jay Cutler was plucked from his family in Nashville more recently—but that doesn’t make it easy.

“That’s the rough part of the business, but I feel like there’s a lot of guys that have to go through that,” said March-Lillard, 24. “It’s just one of those things you have to do. We’ve always known that was something we might have to do, so mentally we’re prepared regardless of what happens.

“My agent said it was a great organization and it’d be a good fit. Nick Williams, who was here, reached out to me and said it was a good organization. He’s always had high praise for this organization. When he found out I was coming here he said, ‘You’ll love it.’ It’s been a great transition so far.”

He initially thought his family might stay in Ohio, but now he plans to move them down to South Florida early next month.

His first practice with the Dolphins was two days before the NFL postponed their season opener in advance of Hurricane Irma, prompting the team to release its players to evacuate. Then they reconvened in Oxnard, Calif., to begin a three-week run that has them playing in Los Angeles, New York and London.

Through all the choppiness of the schedule, March-Lillard’s been trying to grasp a completely new defense and set of terminology under coordinator Matt Burke. The sooner he masters that the better, considering Miami had just four linebackers dressed for the Chargers game last weekend.

Kiko Alonso and Mike Hull were on the field every play of that game, a 19-17 win. Chase Allen got 24 percent of the snaps, and March-Lillard was exclusively on special teams.

The Dolphins won’t have much more depth Sunday when they face the Jets. Rey Maualuga remains unfit to play, and Lawrence Timmons is on indefinite suspension. The only change is that they traded for Stephone Anthony, but it’s a big ask for him to be ready to contribute five days later.

March-Lillard, meanwhile, believes he has a fairly good handle on the defense at this point and could get an opportunity to prove it.

He’s been resilient throughout his three-year career, starting with making the Chiefs’ roster as an undrafted rookie out of Akron in 2015. Whatever ground he gained that summer was forfeited when he tore his meniscus in a preseason game.

Nonetheless, he reemerged as a starter for Kansas City in 2016. That looked like his breakthrough until he broke his hand in the fifth game. He had 22 tackles and two pass break-ups in those starts.

March-Lillard was undeterred by the injury, though, and powered through an offseason training regimen that helped him drop from 245 to 228 pounds (he’s 6 feet tall) and set him up to play what he considered his best football when he arrived for Organized Team Activities, minicamp and training camp.

Now that he’s with the Dolphins, he sees his momentum continuing—and they badly need that to be true

“I still feel like I’m the best athlete that I’ve been in a long, long time,” he said.

[Polling the locker room: Dolphins players want Lawrence Timmons back]

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