MIAMI GARDENS—In a season of embarrassing off-field snafus, the Dolphins ran into another one Saturday morning with the arrest of linebacker Rey Maualuga on a battery charge.
Maualuga, who the team signed in August after losing second-round pick Raekwon McMillan, was taken into custody shortly before Miami players were expected to arrive at the facility for a walk-through, and the team wasted no time cutting him.
“That was the decision we came to,” coach Adam Gase said after today’s 30-20 loss to Tampa Bay. “Wasn’t very hard.”
Maualuga was a starter, but played only about 40 percent of the defensive snaps the past two weeks because Miami didn’t use him when it was in nickel defense. He had 23 tackles in six games.
Undrafted rookie Chase Allen replaced him in the starting lineup against the Buccaneers.
As a ninth-year veteran, Maualuga was thought to be one of the more stable elements of the Dolphins’ locker room. He was a solid player and was very popular with his teammates.
“It’s sad, man,” safety Michael Thomas said. “That’s my guy. I hate to see that happen to anyone. I’ve reached out to him just trying to make sure he’s alright and I’m waiting for a response.
“He’s a likable guy, great teammate, great in the locker room, worked hard on the field. There wasn’t too much not to like about him. That’s tough.”
Ndamukong Suh and Cameron Wake also expressed disappointment over Maualuga’s situation, but declined to say much about his departure.
“I don’t know the whole situation, the whole story,” Suh said. “I’ve heard bits and pieces of it. I think Rey is a great guy. I’ve known him since 2004. I think he’s smart. Unfortunately, some people make mistakes, but I don’t know the whole situation so I can’t really comment on it.
DAVIE–The Dolphins waived linebacker Rey Maualuga after he was arrested this morning.
Miami-Dade County lists the charge as battery, which was first reported by Pro Football Talk. The police file on his arrest had him booked at 12:46 p.m. today and has his bond at $1,500.
Per the police report, the victim alleged that Maualuga grabbed him by the throat and shoved him after refusing to pay the remaining $40 on his bar tab at Club E11even at 8:22 this morning. Club security immediately called Miami police.
Maualuga was then escorted out of the club and detained. When the victim identified him to the officer as his alleged assailant, he was arrested and taken to jail.
The Dolphins hold walk-throughs on Saturdays before the team moves into a hotel for the evening. Players were expected to arrive at the facility this morning around 9 a.m.
Maualuga had been a starter this season after Miami signed him in training camp to shore up a depleted linebacker corps. He had 23 tackles in six games and filled in occasionally at fullback. He was one of the most popular personalities in the locker room with his new teammates and had a good relationship with defensive coordinator Matt Burke, who was his position coach in Cincinnati.
When three linebackers were needed, Miami started Maualuga in the middle with Kiko Alonso and Lawrence Timmons alongside him. That role had previously been filed by Mike Hull, who was demoted to backup when Maualuga got himself in shape to play.
Because of how often the Dolphins were in nickel defense, Maualuga had four games in which he played fewer than 45 percent of the snaps. He was on the field for 31 plays (40.3 percent) against Carolina on Monday.
The Dolphins waived Maualuga at 3 p.m., creating an open roster spot in advance of Sunday’s home game against Tampa Bay. Letting him go left the team with five linebackers. Miami originally signed him to replace second-round pick Raekwon McMillan, who tore his ACL in the opening preseason game.
The Dolphins filled Maualuga’s spot by promoting practice squad running back De’Veon Smith to the active roster. Smith is an undrafted rookie from Michigan who has been with the team since April. He rushed for 846 yards and 10 touchdowns last year.
Practice squad linebacker Neville Hewitt, who played all 16 games and had five starts for Miami last season, is a candidate to be signed if Miami determines it needs help at the position.
Maualuga has had off-field trouble dating back to his time at Southern California, where he was arrested on a misdemeanor battery charge for getting into a fight in 2005 and entered Alcoholics Anonymous as part of his court settlement. He was also arrested for DUI in Kentucky in 2010 while playing for the Bengals.
His latest incident continues a frustrating run of bad behavior for the Dolphins this year. They suspended Lawrence Timmons after he deserted the team the day before the season opener, and offensive line coach Chris Foerster was forced to resign after a video surfaced showing him snorting a white powder.
DAVIE—Adam Gase shouldn’t be dismissive of this idea. The Dolphins offense could use help, and linebacker Rey Maualuga could be the secret weapon.
Maualuga, who is listed at 6-foot-2, 258 pounds, has played three snaps at fullback this season. Three. I don’t think the 31st-ranked offense in the NFL can afford to keep overlooking this man’s wide-ranging skillset.
He debuted in the HeavyCat package for one snap against Tennessee in October and played two snaps there against Carolina on Monday.
“My biggest thing is just make sure I’m not the one that jumps offsides,” said Maualuga, not exactly inspiring confidence that we should proceed down this road. “If someone moves, then I’ll move. Other than that, I guess I could say I’m comfortable.
“I haven’t played that many snaps at fullback, but hopefully as the weeks go on and we start playing these other teams, I can expand my role and hopefully run out of the backfield and go to the flats or something.”
Now we’re talking. The big man wants to catch a pass.
“That would be on my bucket list next,” he said. “Hopefully that’ll happen. I do have good hands. I’ll make sure not to drop the ball. We’ll see.”
Hopefully that “we’ll see” becomes reality.
Imagine Maualuga as the goal-line back. Not a bad plan considering he outweighs Damien Williams by at least 34 pounds and has no less than a 47-pound advantage over Kenyan Drake.
Imagine Maualuga over the middle at tight end. Not the worst concept when the current tight ends have a meager 32 catches for 305 yards out of their 51 targets.
Imagine Maualuga as a Wildcat quarterback. Not a dumb idea considering some of Jay Cutler throws.
And separately, it bears noting that Matt Haack is 20th in the NFL in net punting yards. Don’t be so quick to rule out Maualuga doing that job, too.
“I’m not asking for anything,” Maualuga said. “I’m just trying to help out the team any way I can.”
So modest. But he knows.
Not to mention the fact that this would be good use of Maualuga when the Dolphins play games in which they spend the majority of the time in nickel coverage. He played just 44 and 40 percent of the snaps, respectively, against Oakland and Carolina.
Gase believes his conditioning has reached a level at which he could handle way more than one or two snaps at fullback per game.
“You can do it 30 plays if you want,” Gase said before practice today. “That was just kind of the situation that we felt like it was good for us with what we wanted to do, what we had in. We didn’t get to a couple things that we liked. We’ll just kind of keep seeing where that goes.”
Where that goes is the end zone. It’s just a matter of how soon the Dolphins want to get there.
CHARLOTTE, N.C.—It’s looking bleak for the Dolphins after three straight losses, two of which were utter humiliations, and their season is slipping away from them. After Monday’s 45-21 loss to Carolina, there’s little belief from the outside world that they have any shot at cracking the playoff field.
In the locker room, though, it’s a different story. As bad as it’s been lately, there’s no sense of players being demoralized or thinking to sleepwalk through the rest of the schedule.
“I look in every eye, and these guys, I know what they’re about,” cornerback Bobby McCain said. “I know what they’re about throughout the week. I know what the guy to my right and the guy to my left are about. We play for each other.
“I don’t care if we was 9-0 or 0-9, I’m still gonna play for the man next to me and I’m still gonna play (vigorously) and do what I gotta do. There’s no hanging heads. Next game. We’ve got Tampa Bay at home and we’re gonna prepare our tails off.”
He continued, “It’s very frustrating, not even as a team or an individual, but as a human. I don’t care if you’re a school teacher—if someone’s not learning what you’re putting out there, then you feel like you let them down and let yourself down. It’s frustrating. We know we’ve gotta keep putting the work in and keep chopping, keep chopping, keep chopping.”
The next obstacle in their path is a home game Sunday against Tampa Bay, which presents a prime opportunity to regain some confidence. The Buccaneers are 3-6 and are playing with backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick instead of Jameis Winston.
Miami rode out a lot of adversity at the beginning of the season with injuries and scheduling strains to get to 4-2. Three straight losses put the team at 4-5 with a minus-87 point differential, fourth-worst in the NFL. For context, the 1-9 San Francisco 49ers are one point better at minus-86.
With tie breakers taken into account, the Dolphins now sit ninth in the AFC standings. That in itself isn’t so dire, especially with No. 6 Buffalo merely one game better at 5-4, but the remaining schedule is brutal on Miami with two games against the Patriots, two against the Bills and a Christmas Eve game at Kansas City.
“We’re good,” center Mike Pouncey said when asked how he felt about the team slipping below .500 for the first time since last October. “We’re gonna regroup. We still control our own destiny… In the second half of the season, we can’t lose these football games. We just put ourselves in a deeper hole. We’re gonna continue to work hard and try to get a win next week.”
They’ve seesawed throughout the year with the offense and defense taking turns letting them down.
When Jay Cutler and the offense managed three touchdowns in the first four games, Miami stayed afloat by holding opponents to an average of 16.8 points.
That side of the ball seems to have figured some things out lately—just in time for the defense to spiral. Cutler has thrown nine touchdown passes in his last 12 quarters, and the Dolphins put up 24 points—not an overwhelming total by any means, but certainly viable—in their home loss to Oakland.
Their defense has allowed 98 points (does not include the two Ravens’ pick-sixes) and 1,222 yards over the last three games. It bottomed out Monday with the Panthers racking up 548 yards, the second-most by an NFL team this season.
“We’ll get it fixed,” linebacker Rey Maualuga said. “Just another frustrating night. It’s something I’m sure the coaches will get fixed and us players will make it a priority to fix the things we need to fix.”
Many of the starters on this team were with Miami last year when it went 10-6 and made the playoffs, and new guys like Lawrence Timmons, Maualuga and T.J. McDonald are proven veterans.
That’s the most frustrating element of this slide for the players, who refuse to concede that they’re overmatched personnel-wise. It’s also their greatest hope for reclaiming a season that’s on the brink of crumbling.
“We know we can,” safety Michael Thomas said. “The same guys that are here now have done it before. They’ve played good football before. They’ve made the plays before. We know we all can do it. Let’s figure it out.”
CHARLOTTE, N.C.—Rey Maualuga knew it was bad, but when he heard total numbers on what the Dolphins defense allowed in the 45-21 loss to Carolina on Monday, he thought it had to be a misprint.
Miami gave up 548 yards, just seven short of being the worst game by an NFL team this season.
“No,” Maualuga said in disbelief. “That’s total offense?”
When it was confirmed to him that the number was indeed accurate, as well as the 294 rushing yards, it was difficult to absorb that happening to a unit he believed was incapable of such a meltdown.
“Five hundred plus? That’s a damn lot,” he said. ‘That’s a lot. You see the guys that’s on this defense and there’s no way we should give up 350, let alone 400, let alone whatever you said it was. Five fifty? We’ve just gotta go back to work. It’ll be fixed for sure.”
Miami’s defense was fine in the first half and kept the game within reach until it unraveled in the third quarter. It was at that point that Cameron Newton led the Panthers on five straight touchdown drives.
The Dolphins went from down 10-7 heading into the final minutes of the first half to trailing 38-14 at the end of the third quarter.
For a group that starts with Ndamukong Suh and Cameron Wake on the defensive line, has three veteran linebackers and well-regarded talent at every position in the secondary, that’s unacceptable.
“We would never think that we’d give up that,” cornerback Bobby McCain said. “But we did. We’ve gotta look at it, take it for what it is and move on.”
Newton, who had struggled as a passer the last four games, came up with 254 yards on 21-for-35 throwing with four touchdowns and didn’t have a turnover. He also ran for 95 yards on five plays, including a backbreaker for 69 yards right after the Dolphins scored to pull within 31-14 late in the third quarter.
The Panthers had six plays of 20-plus yards. One of those was Cameron Artis-Payne running mostly untouched for a 43-yard gain in the final minutes.
By that point in the night, Artis-Payne’s run was little more than a footnote in the Miami defense’s worst performance of the season.
“Man, I—What’s on paper doesn’t define who we are,” Maualuga said. “Obviously people might look at (548 yards) and be like, ‘Holy crap, these guys didn’t come out and play and maybe they just can’t perform under the lights.’
“I don’t know. It just doesn’t define who we are as a defense and as a team. There’s nothing more to it. We have to come back and fix our mistakes and move forward.”
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.”
DAVIE — The Dolphins used an offensive lineman at defensive tackle against the Jets. They also used a linebacker at fullback.
That leaves only one piece of unfinished business in this versatility madness. After all these years, Ndamukong Suh is still itching to show off his placekicking skills.
Suh admitted as much Tuesday during lighthearted moments with the media that began when it was mentioned that Jesse Davis, who can play most anywhere on the offensive line, played a snap at defensive tackle in a goal-line situation last Sunday.
“Jesse’s good. I think he’ll be fine, especially if he’s playing next to me – a pat on my back,” Suh joked. “We talk for sure, and give him a little crap. We’ve actually got a little funny thing going on, which is harder to play — O-line or D-line? He’s getting a taste of that right now.”
Davis wasn’t the only one making the leap. Linebacker Rey Maualuga played one snap as a blocking back, leading the way for Jay Ajayi on a third-and-1 play in the second quarter. Ajayi followed Maualuga for a 2-yard gain, part of a series that ended with Jay Cutler hitting Anthony Fasano with a 4-yard touchdown pass.
Suh’s take on Maualuga’s moonlighting: “He’s a strong downhill guy, so he’ll serve pretty well on that side of the ball as well as being on our side of the ball. We’ve got some blitzes for him that I’m sure you guys have seen in the past where he’s coming downhill. He’s got some stuff in practice that he’s done, which I wouldn’t want to be a center.”
Given Suh’s athleticism, it’s not crazy to think he could be an asset on offense … right? “You’ll have to ask coach (Adam) Gase about that,” Suh said. “I’m more than happy to go on the offensive side of the ball and have some fun, obviously in situations.”
That’s when Suh spilled the beans on the true item on his football bucket list is: “The one thing I definitely want to do is get back on special teams and kick a field goal or an extra point. I’ve got to make up for that past Jets game, however many years that was ago.”
That was a reference to a game in 2010, Suh’s rookie season, when he was with the Detroit Lions. Kicker Jason Hanson was injured in a game against the Jets, so after the Lions scored a third-quarter touchdown for a 13-10 lead, they had Suh try the extra point. He missed, doinking it off the right upright, but his soccer-style swing was nearly impeccable. One reason Suh itches for another shot is that the Jets came back to win that day 23-20 in overtime. Of course now, with the extra points moved back, the kick would be that much more challenging.
Suh’s comments came a couple of days after Cowboys safety Jeff Heath was pressed into emergency kicking duty after Dan Bailey was injured against the 49ers. Heath missed his first extra point but made the next two and kicked off five times.
Back to Suh. As far as playing offense goes, he said the Lions had offensive plays designed with him in mind.
“I had some stuff in Detroit,” Suh said. “I don’t think we ever ran it; but we had some plays for sure. It was actually the ‘Husker package.’ If I’m ever needed and my number is called, I’ll be ready to go.”
Maualuga has been chatting up the coaching staff about a role at fullback—the Dolphins don’t have one—and they finally granted his wish by sending him in as the lead blocker on a play in Sunday’s 31-28 win over the Jets. He got in as the fullback on a three-yard run by Jay Ajayi in the second quarter.
It was his first time appearing on offense in his nine-year career, and it’d been a long-time dream.
He began this campaign about three weeks ago, sidling up next to coach Adam Gase and mentioning casually, “You know I can play fullback.”
Gase replied dryly, “Great.”
But Maualuga persisted. He also started badgering running backs coach Danny Barrett.
“I was like, ‘Well, I know he’ll hit somebody,’” Gase said. “I think he was working a lot of areas in the building trying to get in there. But he did a good job. That’s a big man. He’ll come and hit you.”
Maualuga initially tried to downplay how much lobbying he did for a spot in the offense before being informed that Gase shared the real story an hour earlier. Then he confessed that he bypassed Clyde Christensen altogether.
“No point in going to the offensive coordinator,” he said. “You’ve got to go to the head man. You know what I mean?”
Maualuga promised Gase, “I’ll give you one yard. If we need a yard, I’ll get that for you… If I don’t get you that yard, I’m going to run in that locker room and take my shirt and pads off.”
He did not ask for the ball, though that could be coming next. Maualuga proudly showed off footage of him running through a defense while in high school and he occasionally runs routes at tight end on the scout team in practice.
Maualuga got a few reps at fullback last week, none of which came during the parts of practice that are open to the media. He was coy about whether he took multiple snaps of the same play or ran several different plays. He also suggested played coy when asked if there’s a HeavyCat package in the offense.
“Yeah, yeah,” he said. “There’s one where I go out for a pass or whatever. Nah, I don’t know. I wish.”
Gase turned quiet when pressed to divulge Maualuga’s other skills and how else the 6-foot-2, 258-pound linebacker might be used on offense, but Maualuga didn’t hold back.
“I can do whatever the team asks me to,” he said.
Can he throw? “I can do whatever,” he said. But he drew the line at kicking. “Ah, maybe not,” he admitted. “I’m a toe kicker.”
For now, he’ll focus mainly on fullback—especially given the concern that other linebackers might get jealous and start asking for snaps, too. When asked whether he was worried that Kiko Alonso (6-3, 233), who was crowding in with the media to hear about his teammates exploits, Maualuga expressed full confidence that he’d handle him just fine in a fullback-off.
“He’s got to beat me for it,” he said. “We’re going to have a one-on-one goal-line battle of me and him. If he beats me, he can have it. I figure I’ve got the weight, the arm-strength.”
MIAMI GARDENS — Jay Cutler may not enjoy overwhelming support in the stands, but he does in his locker room.
A couple of weeks ago, it was receiver Jarvis Landry ripping Dolphins fans for an “embarrassing” chant for backup Matt Moore. Sunday, the defense came to Cutler’s defense after the 31-28 victory over the New York Jets.
Linebacker Rey Maualuga wants Dolphins fans to cool it when it comes to booing Cutler.
“Cutler’s a good quarterback,” linebacker Rey Maualuga said. “Obviously, there’s a reason he’s in there starting. Our head coach makes the decision for him at the end of the day to play and that’s what we’re going to stick with and we’re just going to have to support him.”
The players might support him, but as for the fans …
“To sit there and hear all the boos and what-not, it’s just — I don’t know,” Maualuga said. “It’s not cool. If you expect your quarterback to win, or if you expect him to do good, you’re going to want to cheer him up, things like that.
“But if you’re a fan, stay a fan. Please be a fan and cheer no matter what — the good, the bad, the ugly.”
Cutler was injured on the first series of the third quarter and replaced by Matt Moore. Cutler finished 12-of-16 for 138 yards and two touchdowns. Moore was 13-of-21 for 188 yards and two TDs. Both threw one interception but both had quarterback ratings of more than 100.
Landry also voiced support for Cutler after fans seemed glad he was having to leave with an injury in favor of Moore.
“They loved Jay last week and hit him this week,” Landry said. “Like, I don’t pay attention to all that. We just stick together as a team, as a family, and that’s all it’s about. We don’t care about anything outside of this building, outside of us.”
DAVIE—On the list of interesting things to do at Dolphins headquarters, a locker room chat with Rey Maualuga ranks at or near the top.
Maualuga has become a favorite among the media for his candor and humor, and he’s been doing well on the field, too. Here’s a conversation with him following today’s practice:
Does it finally feel normal being here after all those years in Cincinnati?
“I still hate this heat. I still don’t like the sun. Anytime we get to practice in the bubble, that’s a plus for me. I have yet to experience the 100-plus-degree practice outside. Back in Cincinnati, it’s 60s right now. It’s just gonna stay what, 80s or 90s here?”
Yeah, for most of it.
“I’m gonna enjoy it.”
But does it feel normal being on the Dolphins? Is it weird seeing yourself in that jersey?
“It is weird to be with a team for a long time (then change), but I remember seeing Miami on Hard Knocks a couple years ago and to see how crazy it would actually be to play out here. (Shoot), things happen for a reason. I wouldn’t say it’s weird to be here, but for the past month and a half I’ve gotten to sleep and wake up and be here early in the morning. So this is work for me for the next couple months. So to answer your question, yeah, I’m kinda adjusted to it. But I don’t think it’s weird to be in a different uniform. I’m just glad to be here. It’s the same game.”
Do teammates tell you that you’ll get used to the heat?
“I still see some people complaining about it. It’s weird to say I hate to sweat. I mean, everybody hates to sweat, but then you start cramping and hallucinating and it takes all the energy out of you. They say, ‘Oh, you’ve gotta rehydrate.’ Well, if you keep drinking you’re gonna end up throwing up. But for the most part, man, there are hundreds of people that would kill to be in your shoes right now and I’m over here complaining about the heat. I’ve just gotta enjoy it. It doesn’t last forever.”
You must’ve played in the opposite extreme in the AFC North, though.
“It would be hot during camp and then the first four weeks, but then it would mellow out to the 50s or 60s.”
No, I’m talking about the sub-zero games. That’s the tradeoff when you play up north.
“Oh. It’s frustrating. It’s horrible. We didn’t have a bubble. We were the only team that didn’t have a bubble, so rain, shine, sleet, snow, we’d (expletive) practice inside our stadium. It was basically on concrete with the turf being frozen.”
What’s worse out of sub-zero temperatures or the hot and humid conditions here?
“Wherever I’m employed, that’s where I prefer to play.”
Wherever the paychecks are coming from?
“Wherever the paychecks are coming.”
You looked good running at tight end on scout team today.
“I’m trying to harp in Coach’s ear to put me in at fullback.”
“Yeah, let’s see what happens.”
Which one of you guys runs the best routes? Mike Hull looked OK at slot receiver.
“See, these guys have young feet, young legs. They can run for days. These legs right here have been through a lot.”