DAVIE – Dolphins safety T.J. McDonald is back from serving an eight-game suspension for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy. He will receive his first action of the season this week against the Carolina Panthers and he’s expected to play a significant role in the game.
McDonald is a fierce hitter who makes his presence felt with his physicality, and that’s exactly what he hopes to do in Week 10 of the NFL season.
“I definitely want to make my presence felt,” McDonald said. “[Hitting] is what I love about the game. I want to make them pads pop and that’s what I’m going to do on Monday.”
But isn’t that also Reshad Jones’ game?
Both Jones and McDonald are viewed as big, physical safeties, who are best served playing closer to the line of scrimmage. Neither safety gives the Dolphins Earl Thomas range as a single-high safety, but Dolphins defensive coordinator Matt Burke believes in McDonald’s ability to play in the deep third of the field.
“You see a 6-foot-3, 225 pound safety and you assume [he can’t play deep],” Burke said. It was probably a bias I had when we signed him. … I thought that was one of the pleasant things about him we noticed in the spring. He’s a tall kid that can range back there too. … It’s just human nature to say ‘lets put this big guy in the box and that’s where he is.’ But we try to find safeties that are multidimensional; multitalented that can do different things that don’t hamstring a play-caller or defensive scheme. So I don’t have any reservations about putting those guys back in the backend.”
While Jones and McDonald possess similar skill-sets, McDonald also believes that he and Jones’ passion for the game, coupled with their versatility will enhance the Dolphins’ defense.
“We’re just two guys that want to win,” McDonald said. “We want to make plays; we want to be aggressive. I definitely feed off of him. … We’re passionate about the game and I think that itself is going to help make a difference.
“We’ll do whatever they ask us to do. We’re both capable of playing deep, play in the box – come blitz. It helps us be able to show different looks because you never know which ones down [in the box], which one’s back [playing deep]. We’ll be able to come out here and do some different things.”
Dolphins’ coaches and players clearly believe that Jones and McDonald can play together, but whether or not both players are capable of performing at a high level as a single-high safety remains to be seen.
If neither player is able to make plays on the football when asked to perform as a centerfielder, cornerbacks Xavien Howard and Cordrea Tankersley might not receive the help necessary to prevent explosive plays by opposing wide receivers.
The Dolphins could elect to play more cover-2 shell, but that would be a clear indictment on the team’s perception of Jones and McDonald’s range. If the Dolphins continue to successfully mix coverages, with both safeties alternating between playing deep or in the box, the tandem of Jones and McDonald will go a long way towards solidifying an exciting Dolphins’ defensive backfield.