One of the key philosophies of the New England Patriots for the past decade has been their ability to take backup players and make them play like starters. Whoever takes the place of the injured player has to provide the same level of play. Teams in the NFL look for that “next man up” mentality year in and year out. Only some actually manage to find it. However, it seems that the 2019 Miami Dolphins are on their way to putting it all together in that regard.
Observe what Miami has endured this season in the injury department. Even after trading a vast majority of their best players, those who remain on the team still are not contributing due to circumstances beyond their control. They are now all on season-ending injured reserve.
- CB Xavien Howard – Knee
- WR Jakeem Grant – Ankle
- WR Preston Williams – ACL
- SS Reshad Jones – Chest/Ankle
- FS Bobby McCain – Shoulder
And the list goes on and on from there. As a result, the Dolphins are being forced to call on players who normally wouldn’t even make an NFL roster to take their place. Yet they make it work. They compete week in and week out in spite of their withering roster.
Unfortunately, it got even harder for Miami on Sunday. Both DeVante Parker and Albert Wilson, two of the Dolphins remaining wide receivers, left the Jets game with possible concussions. That left only Allen Hurns, newcomer Mack Hollins, and the returning Isaiah Ford as their wide receivers for the game. Parker is having a career year, so losing him especially hurt.
“It definitely made it a little bit difficult.” Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick said after the game. “We had guys out there hobbled and giving everything they had. I was proud to be in the huddle with those guys. I know there’s a lot of stuff people won’t see or don’t really care to write about, but there were some guys that really gutted it out today. It was tough sledding in the second half from communications and lining up for us just because of some of the injuries we had.”
But again, while it was tough, it wasn’t impossible. Isaiah Ford responded by playing the best game of his career. The young receiver out of Virginia Tech caught six passes for 92 yards against New York. Obviously, he’s unhappy with the loss. But he’s glad he got a chance to show what he’s capable of.
You realize this is the #IsaiahFord breakout party? So far the young man who has survived on the practice squad for what seems like 5 years, is having a clutch performance (4-64) for a team that needs it! Happy for him. #FinsUp #MetLifeTakeover @DolfansNYC #BigORadioShow pic.twitter.com/hBpanZ1HXv
— Orlando Alzugaray Jr (@BigOShow) December 8, 2019
“I’ve had confidence in myself the entire time that I can play at this level.” Ford said. “I know I can go on the field and help our team win.”
@IAF_1 went crazy yesterday ! Way to step up bro !!
— Albert Wilson II (@iThinkIsee12) December 9, 2019
Undoubtedly, it’s good to see players like Ford stepping up. But who could predict the Dolphins would even be in this situation by this point?
“Just when you thought this season couldn’t get any crazier.” Fitzpatrick said. “Isaiah has been on the active (roster) and off, on the practice squad and up and down. He’s worked so hard. He’s a guy we have so much faith in as quarterbacks because whenever anybody has a question, sometimes when coaches have questions, we’ll go back to Isaiah and say, ‘What is this signal? What is this route?’ and he knows everything. I was happy to see him get out there and get an opportunity to catch some balls and really take advantage of it and make the most out of it today.”
In spite of that, Brian Flores admitted that it isn’t easy to compensate for the loss of top players like that.
“It complicates things a lot.” He said. “Obviously, when you go into a game with a specific game plan with guys in mind. When you lose one player at any position, you have a backup for that. When you lose two, that’s when it’s tough … Again, Isaiah Ford stepped in and played well. Mack Hollins who we just got a couple days ago, he stepped in and gave us some good snaps, drew a pass interference penalty. And then our tight end group, they really stepped up for us. So, I thought as a collective group, given the adversity of losing two guys, I thought we battled through it.”
Once again, coaching deserves credit for adapting and helping players shine in bad circumstances. Flores will have a lot of roster turnover come next season, with talent coming from free agency and the draft. But here and now, he has to work with what he has. What he has is not good. However, that’s what “next man up” is all about. The Dolphins are taking players who have far less talent, and bringing it to the wire every game. That alone is a sign of things to come.
Luis Sung has covered the Miami Dolphins for numerous outlets such as Dolphins Wire for six years. Follow him on Twitter: @LuisDSung