The Miami Dolphins are tied for the best record in the NFL, sitting at 5-1 through the first six weeks of the season. They are on an offensive pace to blow past many team and individual offensive records and they appear to be ready to make a deep run in the postseason this year. They face a tough test in Week 7 as they visit the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday Night Football, but a strong showing in that game could cement them among the elite teams in the league.
The Dolphins are a scary team this year. Even more frightening for the rest of the league should be the massive in-season reinforcements Miami is about to receive. The Dolphins have been winning despite multiple injuries to key members of the team - and those players are nearing a return.
According to NFL rules, teams are allowed to designate up to eight players per season for return from the injured reserve list. For the Dolphins, many of their IR players are getting close to receiving that designation and getting back on the field.
The Dolphins have already returned one player, offensive lineman Robert Jones, and they have another designated for return, running back Jeff Wilson, Jr. Jones provides the team with needed interior line depth and likely slots in as the number two guard for either side of the line, allowing Liam Eichenberg to concentrate solely on his conversion to center. Jones is a really good reserve lineman who should be able to step in if needed without much degradation to the line play.
Wilson entered the year as the presumed “1a” running back on the depth chart, likely listed behind Raheem Mostert but really serving as co-starter. Issues with his ribs and finger landed him on IR, though there were reports he would be ready before the four-game minimum stint was completed. “I think that he was prepared enough to play,” head coach Mike McDaniel said on Monday of Wilson’s availability. “Going into the gameplan and with regard to the entire team and the scope of what was going on with the team, it kind of necessitated us to have that spot directed somewhere else. I think he was more than prepared. We’re very aware of the windows. We just have to be patient, like a movie premiere.”
Once a player is designated to return, the team is allowed to have them practice for up to 21 days before they have to activate him on to the 53-man roster. If they miss that deadline, the player must remain on the sidelines for the remainder of the year, and the team loses the designated to return slot. Wilson returned last week, giving Miami two more weeks to determine when they want to bring him back.
Wilson will not be returning to a running back group desperately in need of him. He will be reinforcing a unit that has been running wild to start the year. Miami has the number one rushing offense in the league, averaging 181.8 yards per game - over 30 yards more than the second-place Eagles. Mostert is seventh in the league with 429 rushing yards and third in the league among qualifying rushers with a 5.7 yards per attempt average.
And none of that mentioned rookie De’Von Achane. He is currently on injured reserve, but will likely return after Miami’s bye week in Week 10. Achane has effectively played in three games this season, playing in Weeks 3, 4, and 5. He was inactive for Week 1, then had one carry in Week 2, and was placed on IR ahead of the team’s Week 6 game this past Sunday. In those three games, he has 460 rushing yards, currently the third most in the league. He has a 12.1 yards per attempt average, nearly double the second-highest mark.
Assuming both Wilson and Achane are activated, Miami’s running backs room may suddenly have the problem of too many talented runners and not enough touches to go around. When you get an in-season addition of players like Wilson and Achane to spark an already high-octane offense, it almost seems unfair to the rest of the league.
Miami is not done there with the reinforcements coming. Jones and Wilson have taken two designated positions and Achane should be another. That leaves the Dolphins with five players who could still come off IR.
Offensive tackle Terron Armstead will take one of those spots. The Dolphins placed Armstead on IR after he sustained a knee injury in the team’s Week 4 loss to the Buffalo Bills. He will be eligible to come off IR for the Week 9 game against the Kansas City Chiefs in Germany, but Miami might decide the offense is performing well enough to hold him out one additional game, giving him through the Week 10 bye week to get up to full speed. Kendall Lamm has been playing in Armstead’s place, and he has been solid. Armstead’s presence back on the field, however, takes Miami’s line play from solid to great. He immediately locks down one side of the line of scrimmage.
Miami’s offense moves from scary to a horror movie for opponents if Armstead is back on the line.
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Cornerback Jalen Ramsey is nearing a return to practice after a training camp meniscus injury. Originally feared to be a season-ending injury for the All-Pro who Miami acquired in the offseason, the summer prognosis seemed to indicate a December return was possible for Ramsey. The 2016 fifth-overall draft pick was not content with that and publically stated he would beat all timelines. A report over the past weekend seemed to indicate that not only would Ramsey be able to beat the recovery timeline, but that he may be ready to start practicing as early as this week. The Dolphins have not made a move to designate Ramsey as of yet, but Miami adding Ramsey to the defense gives defensive coordinator Vic Fangio the toys he thought he would have when he started designing Miami’s defensive system this year. Pairing Ramsey with Xavien Howard should make Miami’s defense look more like the elite unit it was projected to be before the season started.
Miami is currently 20th in overall defense. A spark from Ramsey will be a welcome addition to the Dolphins’ defense.
Jones, Wilson, Armstead, Ramsey. Four of the eight allotted slots are filled.
The Dolphins have a loop-hole to add another defensive piece as well. Cornerback Nik Needham, who returned to practice two weeks ago and is likely to be added to the active roster this week before his 21-day window closes, does not count against the eight designated to return slots. Needham was placed on the physically unable to perform list, not on injured reserve, allowing Miami to bring him back without using one of the IR designations.
That gives Miami another piece of their secondary to factor into strengthening the defense.
Over the next few weeks, the Dolphins are scheduled to have starters or key rotational players rejoin the active roster. They will likely have Jones, Wilson, Armstead, Ramsey, and Needham all move onto the 53-man roster and provide in-season reinforcements to a team that already looks like one of the top teams in the league.
Even all of this does not include the return of players like center Connor Williams, who should resume his role as the starting center and push Eichenberg back to a reserve role, and wide receiver Chase Claypool, for whom Miami traded 11 days ago and is likely getting more comfortable with his role in the offense and with the playbook, setting him up for a Dolphins debut soon.
The Miami Dolphins may be about to go from scary to a flat-out horror movie for the rest of the league.