Depth Paid Off For Dolphins

Posted Dec 17, 2012

Key contributions from non-starters a comfort in victory.

Before yesterday’s game against the Jacksonville Jaguars even began the Miami Dolphins knew they were going to be without two of their regulars – wide receiver Davone Bess and linebacker Koa Misi. What they didn’t know was how the backups were going to respond.

The answer was a positive one by the time the final whistle blew in a 24-3 victory, and not only for linebacker Jason Trusnik, who started in place of Misi, and the group of receivers that filled Bess’ role. Injuries during the game to running back Daniel Thomas, cornerback Nolan Carroll, tight end Charles Clay, safety Chris Clemons and right guard John Jerry forced more reserves into action.

Trusnik stood out on defense with three tackles (two solo) and some stellar coverage on Jaguars tight end Mercedes Lewis. His highlight came on a critical fourth-and-1 in the red zone from the Miami 15 when he came from the backside and tackled running back Montell Owens short of the first down. That marked the second of three times in the red zone the defense came up with a fourth-down stop.

“I was very pleased with Jason,” Dolphins defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle said in his weekly press conference. “He showed up on the fourth-down play obviously, but there were a number of plays in the run game where he fitted just exactly right. Coverage wise he covered the tight end down the field on a few occasions where I thought he did a great job. We were worried about their tight end, Lewis, being a vertical threat and Jason on a couple of occasions had him man-to-man and did a good job. He had a couple of good zone drops, so overall I thought he really played well.”

Trusnik is a regular on special teams and one of the leading tacklers for Darren Rizzi’s unit, but he did have 15 career starts at linebacker to his credit with the Cleveland Browns in 2009 and 2010. He was part of the trade with the New York Jets that sent wide receiver Braylon Edwards to New York and had 2.5 sacks and 54 tackles (43 solo) in 10 starts over the last 12 games.

Last year during his first season in Miami he racked up 14 special teams tackles and four tackles (two solo) on defense. He and Austin Spitler emerged in training camp as the primary backups to Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett, but Trusnik’s versatility also made it possible for him to move outside to Misi’s position. Burnett said after the game yesterday that Trusnik deserved a game ball for his fourth-down play.

“With Koa being down this week I knew I had to go, so it’s just a matter of preparing,” Trusnik said. “Each week I prepare the same whether I’m going to be a backup or a starter. I just need to make sure when I go out there my defense can count me.”

Back on the offensive side of the ball, Marlon Moore ended up getting the start for Bess but offensive coordinator Mike Sherman got everyone involved in the game plan. Rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill did a nice job of spreading the ball around beyond wide receiver Brian Hartline (five catches for 77 yards) and tight end Anthony Fasano (six catches for 56 yards and a touchdown).

Tannehill finished the day completing 22-of-28 passes for 220 yards and two touchdowns, with three of his completions going to rookie wide receiver Rishard Matthews for 23 yards. Moore caught two passes for 33 yards, Marcus Thigpen caught one for 15 and was targeted a second time in the end zone.

“I like the way those guys stepped up,” Head Coach Joe Philbin said of the receivers. “Obviously, it wasn’t perfect. Marlon did some good things and I thought they blocked well on the perimeter, too. That’s always an underrated aspect of playing receiver but we thought Jacksonville going into the game had a good scheme.

“Even when they played two deep they cut those corners inside and they were sometimes hard to block and I thought overall our guys blocked well. Rishard Matthews, his play speed is increasing and as a young player it’s a brave new world for him but I thought he looked more natural out there.”

Finally, the secondary was tested after Clemons went out briefly with a neck injury and Carroll left with a knee injury and never returned. Cornerbacks R.J. Stanford and Bryan McCann were put under microscope as well as safety Jimmy Wilson.

McCann finished with two solo tackles and one pass breakup while Stanford and Wilson added two tackles apiece. Their coverage coupled with the pressure from the front seven resulted in Jaguars quarterback Chad Henne completing just 18-of-34 passes for 221 yards and a passer rating of 73.3. His completion percentage was a pedestrian 53 percent.

“I thought Bryan McCann stepped in and did a really nice job. R.J. had some good contributions as well,” Philbin said. “Jimmy was out last week and contributed. It was, from a collective standpoint, a good effort by the defensive backs.”

Two games remain for the Dolphins, both against division opponents, so these role players are going to be asked to do even more. Yesterday’s game proved to be a good first step.

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