DAVIE, Fla. -- The Miami Dolphins have already lost their starting quarterback, starting middle linebacker, a starting guard, and their interception leader in the secondary for most or all of the 2017 season. Two important running backs -- 2016 Pro Bowl pick Jay Ajayi and reserve Kenyan Drake -- also suffered concussions.
And it’s only August.
Miami began this year with high expectations after making the playoffs following a 10-6 campaign. However, as the team concluded its training camp Tuesday, it's clear this team’s playoff chances depend on the Dolphins’ depth and ability to sustain success through injuries.
Starters Ryan Tannehill (knee) and Raekwon McMillan (knee) are lost for the season, while guard Ted Larsen (biceps) has a chance to return later in the year. Reserve cornerback Tony Lippett (Achilles) also is out for the season and Ajayi and Drake must be watched closely after going through concussion protocols.
“Well, it hasn’t been easy,” Dolphins head coach Adam Gase said of this year’s training camp. “We’ve had a lot of guys banged up.”
Part of Miami’s success last year during its playoff run was its ability to fight through injuries. But having players going down so early provides a different challenge for the Dolphins. The team still has three preseason games remaining before playing games that actually matter.
Tannehill, for example, injured his knee last December and missed the final three regular-season games. Miami was 8-5 and needed just a couple more wins to get over the hump and into the playoffs. This year, Tannehill didn’t get to play a single game in the preseason or regular season.
Enter Jay Cutler.
The mercurial veteran quarterback signed a one-year, $10 million contract with hopes of saving Miami’s season at the quarterback position. Cutler was semi-retired and played in just five games last season for Chicago.
Lippett started 13 games last year and won’t play at all this season. This makes it vital for rookie third-round pick Cordrea Tankersley and veteran free-agent pickup Alterraun Verner to be ready if starting cornerbacks Byron Maxwell or Xavien Howard get injured.
Larsen and McMillan were new additions expected to make immediate impacts. The Dolphins are trying several players at guard, including Anthony Steen and rookie Isaac Asiata. Third-year player Mike Hull is at middle linebacker. They are not considered upgrades.
Ajayi mostly stayed healthy during his breakout 2016 season but suffered a concussion in the first week of training camp. He could be more susceptible to head injuries going forward. Drake is a playmaker with a long injury history dating to college.
This much we know: These injuries are only the beginning for the Dolphins. Like every NFL team, Miami will have more ailments to come during the course of a 16-game season. The early run of injuries are a troubling sign for a team that hopes to challenge the reigning champion New England Patriots in the AFC East this season.