MIAMI GARDENS — Miami Dolphins linebackers coach Ryan Slowik wrote a number in a defensive meeting Wednesday to introduce some newcomers in a way other players could appreciate:
That’s the career number of sacks the Dolphins recently added to this team, Slowik said. And good for him. Bad injury news has flowed so steadily around this defense some kind of disruption, even psychological trickeration, was needed like this in preparing for Saturday’s playoff game against the Chiefs in Kansas City.
So, there was no need to mention each newcomer is in his mid-30s and unemployed before the Dolphins called.
“We all know it’s a next-man-up league, but we’re missing a lot of guys,” safety Jevon Holland said.
What if there is no next man? That’s where the Dolphins were. It’s why Bruce Irvin, 36, was about to take his children to school Tuesday when he was suddenly packing for a flight. Justin Houston, 34, was on the same flight. Throw in Malik Reed and Melvin Ingram, who was signed a few weeks ago, and you get that 243 career sack total that’s the front-office’s version of a Hail Mary to recover an edge pass rush.
“Good, we had to have somebody,” defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said of his reaction to the signings.
Seven defensive starters could be out Saturday depending on the status of safeties DeShon Elliott and Holland. Elliott injured is calf in warm-ups against Buffalo, played the game but hobbled out of the locker room afterward and didn’t practice Wednesday.
“I felt like I couldn’t really move,’’ Holland said about why he pulled himself against the Bills. He didn’t practice Wednesday, either, saying his condition hasn’t changed.
Just two weeks ago Fangio’s defense had climbed to fourth in the league and showed every sign of being able to carry not just the ballyhooed offense but this season to a good finish. It carried the Buffalo game even as Andrew Van Ginkel’s foot injury put the top three edge rushers on the shelf and linebacker Jerome Baker returned from a knee injury only to break his wrist.
“This really could have been something special if we were all healthy,” Holland said.
Part of football is an irrational fight against injury. Jason Taylor won the Defensive Player of the Year in 2006 on torn plantar fascia in both feet. Football breeds such stories, but there’s no coming back from torn knees or busted Achilles. Normally, the idea to toughen up and play. But seven starters?
Sure, there’s bad luck here. There’s suffering from calculated risks, too. Old players with injury backgrounds don’t have to get hurt football — the odds just say they will more often in the manner cornerback Xavien Howard and edge rusher Bradley Chubb were hurt on this defense.
The Dolphins were the oldest team in the playoffs even before their recent signings with an average age of 27 years, five months and 14 days. (Green Bay has the youngest playoff roster at 25 years, eight months and three days.)
“There’s no woe is me in this business,” Fangio said. “Everybody looks at this as kind of Madden on PlayStation and they all expect results. Is that what they, used to say in the maternity ward, ‘Don’t tell me about the pain, just show me the baby?’ ”
The Dolphins offense received some good news with receiver Jaylen Waddle practicing in a limited fashion on his sprained ankle. But the offense has a normal number of injuries compared to the defense.
In November, this defense held Kansas City’s offense to 14 points, the same it held Buffalo last week. Fangio, an old-school alum who’s not prone to overpraise, said simply of this game: “I think if we hold them to 14, that would be good.”