The Miami Dolphins are heading into this weekend’s game against the Arizona Cardinals with giant question marks surrounding the defense. After being misused and abused by the Baltimore Ravens last week, the team has to find a way to fix the issues before the Cardinals use the same blue print against them. Unfortunately for the Dolphins, that answer will not come in the form of players getting healthy.
One of the biggest issues for the Dolphins this season, and one of the major areas the Ravens exploited, has been the linebacker corps, where injuries and questionable play have led to a large hole right in the middle of the field. The one solid piece all season has been starting middle linebacker Kiko Alonso, who had missed one snap this season before the Ravens game. He missed 26 snaps in that game, however, dealing with a broken thumb and a hamstring injury that was exacerbated during the contest. Alonso was unable to practice this week, largely due to the hamstring despite having to have surgery on the thumb on Monday, and is officially listed as doubtful for the game - though the Dolphins are not expecting him to be available and are planning on second-year linebacker Mike Hull making his first career start.
Earlier this season, the Dolphins were forced to place starting strong-side linebacker Koa Misi on injured reserve due to a neck injury. That means Miami will likely be without all three of their opening-day starters this week as Misi is out for the season, Alonso is not expected to be available, and weak-side linebacker Jelani Jenkins, who is dealing with hand and knee injuries, is listed as doubtful for the game. Jenkins has missed the last four games dealing with the knee injury, and it will likely become five missed games.
The Dolphins also listed defensive end Mario Williams as doubtful for the game as he deals with an ankle injury. Williams practiced on a limited basis early in the week, but was unable to practice on Thursday or Friday due to the injury.
Miami will also be without center Mike Pouncey, who continues to miss practice and games with a hip injury. He was officially ruled out in Friday’s injury report.
The injury report includes ten players for the Dolphins who are listed as questionable. Starters like safety Isa Abdul-Quddus (neck), tackle Branden Albert (wrist), wide receiver DeVante Parker (back), linebacker Spencer Paysinger (ankle), and center Anthony Steen (shoulder/foot) are all on the list, though they probably will be available as long as they do not suffer a set-back leading up to the game. Also listed as questionable were running back Kenyan Drake (knee), defensive tackle Earl Mitchell (back), quarterback Matt Moore (right shoulder), and guard Kraig Urbik (knee).
The final player on the list, officially listed as questionable, is rookie cornerback Xavien Howard, who has missed the last eight games following knee surgery. The Dolphins and Howard are deliberately taking his recovery slowly, trying to make sure the knee is 100 percent healed before he returns, especially since this is the second knee surgery the rookie has had since he joined the Dolphins in April. “We have to talk about it,” head coach Adam Gase said of Howard’s availability this week. “That’s always a good discussion for us on Saturday night. We have an idea – as far as some of us – what we think. But at the end of the day, it’s going to be on him.” Howard could be back as early as this weekend, but it might come down to how the rookie feels on Sunday morning when they start warm ups for the game.
The Dolphins and Cardinals kick off at 1pm ET Sunday.