Should he give a player the spot he had before injury or avoid messing with chemistry?
That is the dilemma Miami Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel has in front of him, with offensive lineman Austin Jackson primed to play in Sunday’s game against the Houston Texans.
Jackson, the Dolphins’ starting right tackle at the beginning of the season, is finally ready to return to the lineup for the first time since the Sept. 11 opener, and McDaniel is keeping his plans for Jackson close to the vest.
“I don’t feel like revealing anything,” McDaniel said playfully on Wednesday when asked about his plan for Jackson. “I feel like, today, helping the competitive advantage of the team I coach.”
His response marked the third time this week a Dolphins coach was tight-lipped about Jackson’s role. The third-year lineman made a move to right tackle this preseason after being drafted in the first round in 2020 to play left tackle and moving to left guard last season. Since his high-ankle sprain sidelined Jackson, veteran Brandon Shell has impressed at right tackle, and Robert Jones has been serviceable at left guard for the injured Liam Eichenberg.
“Some of those things we’re probably going to keep under wraps,” offensive line coach Matt Applebaum said Monday.
Said offensive coordinator Frank Smith: “We have contingency plans to all things. So, we will make sure that we have all bases covered going forward, but our ultimate goal is to play the best five that are going to be able to help us win.”
Last time the Dolphins played, on Nov. 13 against the Cleveland Browns, Jackson was active for the first time since Week 1, but he was only available for emergency purposes. Two weeks later after the bye, he may be in line for reinsertion into the lineup.
“Super confident. Very, very happy that we have taken our time,” McDaniel said of Jackson’s process to return. “He’s in a place where he can make plays as an offensive lineman. We are afforded options with his versatility, but as long as there’s no setbacks, I think you’re going to see some of his best play here soon.”
Added Applebaum: “We’re excited that Austin is getting healthy. We think he has a bright future. It was disappointing to see him go down in Week 1 so early. He had a really purposeful offseason, and I really think he made a lot of strides.”
Jackson doesn’t worry that he would tamper with the line’s chemistry if he returns to the starting five, and he’s kept himself ready by integrating himself into team prep while he was out.
“I try to keep myself around as much as possible,” Jackson said, “even when I wasn’t on the field starting so that I didn’t lose a step, so that I don’t have to catch up. I should fit in just right, just perfectly.”
“You can tell he’s hungry. You can tell he’s ready to play,” said right guard Robert Hunt, who added that chemistry with Jackson was built going back to working together in the spring and training camp.
Allen to start
The Texans (1-8-1) are benching starting quarterback Davis Mills for Sunday’s game in Miami and will instead go with Kyle Allen, the NFL Network reported on Wednesday.
The news was reported after Texans coach Lovie Smith told reporters Wednesday that the team had not made a decision on whether to stick with Mills or make the switch to Allen.
Mills has thrown 11 touchdowns to 11 interceptions in his 10 starts in 2022, completing 61.9 percent of passes. Allen, who has not thrown a pass for Houston this season, has 17 career starts (7-10) between time in Carolina and Washington. He has completed 63.1 percent of passes for 4,318 yards, 24 touchdowns and 17 interceptions in his four previous NFL seasons.
The only Dolphins seen missing at Miami’s Wednesday practice were running back Raheem Mostert and outside linebacker Melvin Ingram. Ingram usually has Wednesdays off for veteran rest.
Left tackle Terron Armstead and linebacker Jerome Baker returned to participation after they missed the team’s Monday session coming off the bye week.
An injury report will be released later Wednesday afternoon.
This story will be updated.