The Miami Dolphins have been struggling through injuries throughout the 2023 NFL regular season, ranging back to players trying to recover from injuries sustained in 2022 and during training camp this year. As some of those players begin to return, including offensive lineman Rob Jones coming off injured reserve last week and cornerback Nik Needham getting activated off the physically unable to perform list this week, eyes are starting to turn toward All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey. Miami traded for Ramsey during the offseason, with the idea that a pairing of Ramsey with Xavien Howard could give the Dolphins the top cornerback tandem in the league.
Ramsey sustained a knee injury early in training camp, an injury that required meniscus surgery and landed him on injured reserve at the start of the regular season. Last week, the practice window for Ramsey opened, giving the team 21 days to allow him to practice before making a decision on activating him or leaving him on IR the remainder of the season.
It does not sound like the Dolphins will need 21 days to make that decision.
ESPN reports have indicated Ramsey may be activated as early as this week, clearing him to play on Sunday against the New England Patriots. That move would return him six to eight weeks earlier than initially expected and seems extremely aggressive. But, Ramsey has always said he would beat the expectations.
Asked on Monday about the possibility of Ramsey returning on Sunday, Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel joked, “I mean, if ESPN reported it.”
He then continued, explaining, “I just always find it interesting when I get that. There’s no judgment (with ESPN’s report). I think Jalen had a great practice week, henceforth he got scout team player of the week on defense and was in a camo jersey on Friday. So not in the business of crystal balls, specifically with guys returning from injury, so we’ll take that a day at a time to make sure we don’t get ahead of ourselves. When he’s ready to go – he can’t help himself, he will let me know.”
When asked to clarify the medical status of Ramsey and if McDaniel meant the cornerback was cleared to play but just needed time to get into football shape, the coach replied, “Yeah, there hasn’t been any sort of setbacks or any – there’s no concern. It’s really just you have a process that you go through, and you don’t try to get ahead of yourself so we don’t rush the process. He’s done such an unbelievable job getting to this point that you don’t want to nonsensically just force an issue just because you want him on the field as fast as possible. You’ve got to do right by the team and the player, but you’re right. There’s been nothing that’s been cause of concern or hesitation so far.”
Working with the scout team is one thing, but it sounds like Ramsey is ready to move over to working with the full defense, getting into his role with the base defense and beginning to claim his spot in the starting lineup. According to multiple media reports, Ramsey is expected to start working in the team’s 11-on-11 drills at practice on Wednesday and could continue to ramp up toward a return - either this week or in the near future.
“Yeah, I would see that as a natural progression to start garnering reps and that will be part of the process,” McDaniel explained of Miami’s plan to get Ramsey into the base defense this week. “It was the first week, so we tried to keep him away from that. This week, the plan as of today which is Monday – which is very different than Wednesday – but as of today, Monday, we’d start working him into defensive team reps to see how he responds to that and dust off the old cobwebs.”
McDaniel added the goal is not getting Ramsey back by a specific date, but getting Ramsey back when he is able to play like the All-Pro cornerback he is. “We’re not getting him back to play a certain game,” he stated. “We are getting him back to play football the way he knows how to play football, to do right by him as a player and by the team and make sure that’s a long-term solution and not a short-term. It’s kind of why inherently – I mean, I get annoyed when I have to speak in grayness more than you guys get annoyed listening to it – but it’s very pragmatic and intentional, because you don’t want to be chasing the wrong things. We’re trying to get him back so that we can have Jalen Ramsey and not some other version that he’s forcing his hand on.”
Whenever Ramsey is able to prove he is ready to play at his normal level, the Dolphins will activate him. It just sounds more and more like that Ramsey reaching that level is coming sooner than anyone expected.