Will the return of T.J. McDonald Jr. make an impact?

Is McDonald Jr. just the man that Miami needs after two tough losses?

Aug 10, 2017; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross (right) talks with Miami Dolphins safety T.J. McDonald (22) before kickoff against the Atlanta Falcons at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 10, 2017; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross (right) talks with Miami Dolphins safety T.J. McDonald (22) before kickoff against the Atlanta Falcons at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Dolphins have had one hell of a season thus far, and not in a good way. The Dolphins this year have been as up-and-down as it gets, evidenced by their 4-4 start thus far.

That record speaks volumes about the Dolphins because week-to-week there’s just no telling what you’re going to get. Especially when considering personnel, which has been the biggest wildcard of all.

A few examples would include the quarterback position, the secondary, the linebackers and the running backs. Miami’s fanbase could have never expected to see Jay Cutler coming out of retirement to dress in Aqua and Orange after Ryan Tannehill’s non-contact knee injury. Most fans would not have guessed that rookie cornerback Cordrea Tankersley would be getting so much playing time after Byron Maxwell’s poor play and Tony Lippett’s Achilles injury.

Not many fans would have thought that the Dolphins would have to sign middle linebacker Rey Maualuga after Raekwon McMillan’s ACL tear. Absolutely nobody predicted that Pro Bowl running back Jay Ajayi would no longer be with the team by the trade deadline.

So, with all of that said, the Dolphins are going to be introducing a new face into the lineup. One that has the potential to play a huge role and make a difference for an ailing unit. With the Dolphins sitting at 4-4 that means that eight games have passed.

That means that T.J. McDonald Jr. will finally be able to hit the field and anyone who comes across the middle or in his alley. McDonald Jr. was suspended for eight games for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.

The Dolphins signed the 5th year safety out of USC to a four-year $24 million dollar contract despite the fact that he has not played one down for Miami. However, the Dolphins’ staff has been so impressed by him that they wanted to ensure that he stays with the team for the future.

McDonald Jr. spent his first four seasons playing for the Rams. He started in every game that he played in (53) and during that time he amassed 285 tackles, five sacks, 17 passes defended, and four interceptions. He is known as a thumper for sure, as he likes to strike fear into the hearts of receivers who dare to venture across the middle.

McDonald Jr. has similar strengths as star safety Reshad Jones. Both excel at playing in the box and neither one shies away from contact. McDonald and Jones are 6’2” and 6’1”, respectively, and they both weigh in at 223lbs. Clearly Miami has invested in having physical, imposing safeties. The only question is if it is a smart investment to have two very similar players at the safety positions instead of having the traditional roles of strong and free safety.

In this case, it can be argued that it would be beneficial. Having McDonald Jr. is certainly an upgrade over reserve safeties Michael Thomas and Nate Allen. Having both Jones and McDonald Jr. on the field would allow defensive coordinator Matt Burke to be more versatile and unpredictable with his scheme.

That is because both Jones and McDonald Jr. excel in the box and can also play deep. So opponents won’t be able to tell what they’re going to get before each play. Having Jones near the line of scrimmage won’t be an immediate tell in terms of a blitz because he could easily drop back in coverage and have McDonald Jr. attacking from the other side and vice versa. This would allow for Burke to truly mix it up and be more flexible.

Most importantly, it would allow Miami’s secondary to stop resembling Swiss cheese. Surrendering 221 yards per game through the air may not seem like much at first, but it is a misleading statistic. When opponents want to pass on the Dolphins, they can. A great example would be against the Raiders. Whenever Oakland was backed up due to penalties, they were able to gain chunk yardage through the air at will. Miami had no answer for tight end Jared Cook, as he hauled in eight receptions for 126 yards.

Other examples include how Miami has had a difficult time stopping the passing attacks of the Chargers, Jets, Saints, and the Falcons. Quarterbacks who have faced the Dolphins have averaged a 106.2 QBR (not counting Matt Cassel). Miami has done an excellent job of making career journeyman Josh McCown look like Aaron Rodgers this year.

Miami has also struggled with the deep ball more recently, as the Ravens and Raiders were both able to complete long bombs for touchdowns in consecutive weeks. Having McDonald Jr. over the top helping the corners will be very beneficial. Expect to see McDonald Jr. fired up and ready to make an impact right away. Even when receivers are able to get their hands on the ball, McDonald Jr. is the type of player who can separate the two with a well-timed collision.

The Dolphins will line up against the Panthers on the upcoming edition of Monday Night Football. Look for McDonald Jr. to make some plays and to have an impact on the energy level of Miami’s defense after two disheartening losses in consecutive weeks. All eyes will be on him to see if the contract extension was worth it. Of course, one game won’t be able to answer that question, but it has the potential to quite revealing in terms of his impact to a unit that could use some help in terms of ability and leadership.

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