Dolphins lose three more to COVID-19 list. And Duke Johnson on perception and reality

A six-pack of Miami Dolphins notes on a Thursday:

▪ The Dolphins lost three more players to the COVID-19 list on Thursday, with the virus sidelining tight end Cethan Carter, offensive lineman Greg Mancz and linebacker Duke Riley.

Riley has played 200 snaps on defense and 229 on special teams and had taken on a larger role on defense in recent weeks, allowing Jerome Baker to play outside linebacker more often. But Riley logged only nine defensive snaps against the Jets on Sunday.

Carter has played only 47 snaps on offense this season but 237 on special teams.

Mancz is Michael Deiter’s backup at center.

That means the Dolphins now have seven players on the COVID-19 list. Those three join cornerback Justin Coleman, offensive lineman Robert Jones, practice squad running back Gerrid Doaks and receiver Lynn Bowden Jr., who’s on injured reserve and ineligible to return this season.

Vaccinated players can return when they display no symptoms and after producing one negative test and another rapid-test negative result.

Receiver Mack Hollins said “one thing coach Flo [Brian Flores] has hit on is ‘Guys, you have to put things in order of priority. It’s nice to have your family in town, but do you need to go 10 deep to dinner?’

“You can’t allow you wanting to go to dinner parties to get in the way of what we’re trying to build. With COVID, it’s more risky to do those things because you end up missing games.”

The NFL is no longer testing asymptomatic vaccinated players except on a random basis, or if the players request a test.

Is the random aspect to that unfair?

“If it’s truly random, I wouldn’t say it’s unfair,” Hollins said. “If it so happens you’re one of the random guys whether you’re a star player or not, what’s more important is the safety of the team or league… It’s in the best interests of the league to try to keep players safe.”

Beyond the players sidelined by COVID, receiver Albert Wilson remained out Thursday for personal reasons, but Flores said he will be available Monday at New Orleans.

Running back Phillip Lindsay (ankle) and tight end Adam Shaheen (knee) were limited during Thursday’s walk-through practice.

▪ Anyone who watched Duke Johnson steamroll through the Jets’ defense for 107 yards last Sunday might wonder:

How was he not on an NFL active roster at all this season?

Did Johnson find it disrespectful?

“Not really. I don’t take everything as disrespect,” the former Miami Hurricanes star said. “There’s 32 teams and none of them felt at the time that I was ready. I didn’t take it as disrespect. I just took it as get better and move forward.”

Johnson averaged just 3.1 yards per carry on 77 rushing attempts for Houston last season and was released on Feb. 26.

The Jaguars signed him to their practice squad on Sept. 6 but released him Sept. 16.

The Dolphins signed him to their practice squad on Oct. 26 and he appeared in just one game before he made his first start on Sunday after three Dolphins running backs tested positive for COVID-19. He was promoted to the 53-man roster on Monday.

Johnson broke eight tackles against the Jets, most by any NFL running back last weekend.

Yet throughout his career, Johnson has had a reputation for being a pass-catching back, and he acknowledges that’s “because I can catch the ball. That’s something I can do.”

Does that perception bother him?

“No, not anymore,” he said Thursday.

“When I was younger, when I came out of college and I did what I did in college, I thought I proved myself that I could do it and I didn’t get the opportunity to do it when I was younger.

“Yeah, it used to bother me when I was younger. But as I got older and more mature and more years in the league, I learned that I can’t control that. There’s nothing I can do about that. So whatever role I do have, I have to embrace it and move forward. That’s kind of what I did.”

A former third round pick of the Browns, Johnson has appeared in 98 games, but Sunday’s game against the Jets was only his 18th start.

Some of his best NFL work has been as a receiver out of the backfield; he has 308 career receptions for 2849 yards (9.4 average) and 12 touchdowns.

But he also has a career 4.2 rushing average on 485 carries.

And since 2018, when the statistic first began to be measured, Johnson has averaged 2.4 yards after contact. For perspective, that 2.4 – if compared to other running backs for this season alone – would rank 39th of 47 backs who have at least 100 carries this season, ahead of Dolphin Myles Gaskin (2.2) and eight others.

But Johnson is averaging a solid 3.0 yards after contact in his two NFL games this season.

Is it important for him to prove he’s a complete running back?

“At this stage in my career, not really,” he said. “My thing is just doing whatever they ask – whether it’s running, catching, special teams. I don’t really care to prove anything to anyone anymore because I know who I am and what I can do. That may not be what the team needs. I’m not at a proving stage anymore.”

Johnson, 28, wanted to make clear that his performance Sunday was “not just a Duke show. I know it’s getting portrayed as I did everything but that wasn’t the case.”

Prominent NFL backs often find themselves out of work before they reach 30. As an example, three-time Pro Bowler Todd Gurley is unemployed at 27.

Johnson’s performance Sunday – if he can sustain it for the next three weeks – should give him an opportunity to make it to an eighth NFL season next year.

“I haven’t thought about retiring,” he said. “I haven’t thought about that in no way, shape or form, so it’s really hard for me to tell how much I have [left in the proverbial tank]. For me, that’s really a day-to-day thing because I think in the game of football, something could change in 24 hours… I just know I feel good and I’m happy.”

And he took time to savor the moment after the Jets game.

“After the game, I was really just overwhelmed with the way the game went and just being happy with the way I played and we winning the game,” he said, flashing the radiant smile that has endeared him to South Florida sports fans dating back to his time with the Hurricanes.

▪ As Dolphins.com’s Travis Wingfield noted, the Dolphins ranked last in Next Gen’s pass blocking efficiency metric in the first 10 weeks of the season, at 78.5.

Since Week 11, they are second in the NFL at 89.9.

So there has been clear improvement in pass protection. And Tua Tagovailoa’s ability to evade sacks (just four in the past four games) also has helped.

Center Michael Deiter said Thursday that the offensive line “definitely [takes] some pride” in the improvement.

“There’s been some growth but there’s still way too much we have to be better with,” Deiter said. “There are still too many things that aren’t good, aren’t perfect. [But] it’s good to have some growth.”

▪ Cornerback Byron Jones, who is playing well, said one factor that’s helping is his comfort level in his second year in the Dolphins’ defense.

“Coming into this system, small things are different,” he said. “The way you play man. Your high hip, low hip, how you attack the ball, whether you’re undercutting routes. It was a fun challenge, especially trying to adjust the way you play later on in your career. That was something that I was eager to adjust to.”

▪ Brett Brecheisen of the Dolphins’ football communications department served up some Tua Tagovailoa nuggets on Thursday. Among them:

Tua’s 69.9 completion percentage this season leads the NFL…

His 67.1 career completion percentage is the best through 20 games of a career in NFL history (minimum 500 attempts)….

He joined Drew Brees as the only players in NFL history with three games of 80 percent completion percentage in the same season….

Since returning from injured reserve in Week 6, here is where Tagovailoa ranks among all NFL passers in the fourth quarter:

Completion Pct.: 73.2 (1st)

Yards Per Attempt: 8.4 (4th)

Passer Rating: 113.2 (6th)

Passing Yards: 593 (8th)

▪ Quick stuff: Defensive tackle Zach Sieler said to prepare for facing Saints rookie quarterback Ian Book, he will “look back at any tape from him from college, NFL, anything we’ve got.”..

Dolphins receiver Mack Hollins said he decided to hold off on buying a pet alligator because “I was vetoed in my household.” He said he was denied permission to transform his garage into an “alligator sanctuary. this is just for now until I can move some things around in the garage and make it seem like we have more space than we need.”