With offensive lineman Austin Jackson nearing a return and veteran Brandon Shell playing well at his right tackle post, there are questions outside the Miami Dolphins on if Jackson could play elsewhere when he’s fully ready to play from his high-ankle sprain.
Coach Mike McDaniel made a firm statement Friday about his role — sort of.
“I see Austin as our starting right tackle,” McDaniel said, before then not fully committing to the idea.
“However, just because I’m annoying, we’ll play him at whatever position best serves us at the given moment to win the game.”
McDaniel putting it in drive and then reverse comes after offensive coordinator Frank Smith said Thursday the Dolphins will look to “play the best five” on the line.
McDaniel continued: “I still, without a shadow of doubt, haven’t strayed away at all from my feelings of Austin being the starting right tackle because of what he’s shown me coming back, showing improvement in detail and execution of certain things from when he was in a groove before he got hurt.
“He’ll be back there when he’s ready, and we’ll adjust him if it’s the best thing for the team, which there’s a lot of variables involved in that.”
The Dolphins will also continue to take a cautious approach with Jackson’s return after ramping him up Thursday for his greatest practice workload since injuring the ankle in the Sept. 11 opener against the New England Patriots, missing the ensuing eight games.
“We’ll not compromise his progress for the long haul to put him out there before we feel as confident as we possibly can that he won’t regress,” McDaniel said.
The Dolphins have used a matchup-based rotation in replacing strong safety Brandon Jones since his season-ending knee injury. In last Sunday’s win against the Bears, it was mostly Eric Rowe, with Elijah Campbell getting into the mix. The week prior at Detroit, it was Verone McKinley up from the practice squad. When Jones was initially sidelined, on Oct. 23 against the Steelers, Clayton Fejedelem saw plenty of action.
“They give us versatility for different sorts of packages week in and week out,” McDaniel said. “You can utilize specific skillsets for given matchups.”
McDaniel also praised Rowe’s seven-tackle performance in the start against the Bears after being inactive the week before against the Lions.
“It’s not usually just, ‘Hey, this is the next guy,’” said Boyer, adding there are special teams and roster management elements to decisions. “If you try to highlight what guys do well, you try to put them in situations that are going to come up that you feel pretty good that they’re going to do well in those situations.”
Campbell played 16 snaps, 22 percent of defensive plays, on Sunday after previously only getting in on four against the Patriots in the opener and one at Cincinnati in Week 4.
“There were some things that I was a little delayed on, but through time and repetition, I’m going to be just quicker to trigger on some things,” Campbell said.
Campbell has been versatile for Miami, working with cornerbacks given the multitude of injuries the Dolphins have had there and also getting safety work.
“It was just an adjustment,” Campbell said. “There’s a lot less that you have to look at as a corner, as opposed to safety. There’s a lot more calls and checks that your teammates are relying on you to make. Your responsibility is a lot higher.”
And the Dolphins enjoy the element of surprise for opponents with the different safeties.
“From a game-plan perspective from their side, they don’t know what they’re going to get, so they can only have so many game plans to attack the strong safety,” Campbell said. “Everyone’s going to perform. We’re all NFL athletes.”
Dolphins left tackle Terron Armstead (toe) was not seen at practice Friday after his usual Thursday session of limited participation. Tight end Hunter Long (concussion protocol) was not spotted Friday.
The Browns already ruled out linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (knee) and tight end and University of Miami alum David Njoku (ankle), who will not make his Hard Rock Stadium return.
This story will be updated.