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Someone goes down, someone else steps up. We saw it last Sunday against New England and we’ve seen it, to a large degree, all season long. It has become one of the most significant storylines of this team.
By now Michael Thomas and his game-saving interception against the Patriots has become a league-wide story. You show up on Tuesday and you’re a star on Sunday. Neat stuff. Important stuff. But Thomas is just one of many examples of how the Dolphins have utilized their entire 53-man roster to get to where they are today.
The significance of this can not be overstated. Without these role players, without the depth on this roster, the Dolphins wouldn’t have beaten the Patriots on Sunday and wouldn’t be challenging for a playoff spot with just two games left in the regular season.
Much of the credit for this belongs to General Manager Jeff Ireland and his personnel staff. I understand how easy it is to second-guess Ireland because every move he makes resides under a huge microscope. But as the Dolphins changed the course of their season, as they have put together this current three-game winning streak, Ireland keeps looking better and better. And I’m not only referring to the fact that eight of his nine 2013 draft picks played against the Patriots.
So let’s take a minute and stroll down the Dolphins roster. Let’s single out some of these unheralded players who have made a difference. Let’s look at some of the back-ups who have been called upon to play significant roles. Michael Thomas, who never played a down in a regular season game before Sunday, is simply the latest example of a recurring theme.
• Tight end Charles Clay: It really started with Clay. Who knew if there was a player on the roster who could replace Dustin Keller? Who knew that Clay, a former sixth-round pick, would have a Pro Bowl caliber season? Think where the Dolphins would be without him.
• Wide receiver Rishard Matthews: Another pretty good late round pick, don’t you think? Matthews was taken in the seventh round of the 2012 draft. He resided deep down the depth chart when the season began. But a season-ending injury to Brandon Gibson created the opportunity that Matthews needed and he has responded with some huge plays, including a diving 24-yard catch in the fourth quarter on Sunday.
• Defensive back Jimmy Wilson: A seventh-round pick in 2011, Wilson is as versatile as any player on this team. He was switched permanently to safety a year ago, but stepped in at cornerback against the Patriots when the starters went down with injuries. A week earlier, he blocked a punt against Pittsburgh. Wilson doesn’t make headlines; he just makes plays.
• Offensive guard Sam Brenner: An undrafted rookie out of Utah, Brenner kept turning heads on the practice field. He got his big chance against the Steelers and played well enough to earn a starting job against New England. I’ve got a feeling he’s going to stay in the starting lineup for a while. He doesn’t have the great size or power you may be looking for in a guard, but he is intelligent and tenacious and just doesn’t make many mistakes.
• Tight end Michael Egnew: Remember Egnew? He was the source of much criticism as a rookie, a third-round pick who just didn’t produce. So many of us had given up on him. He was truthfully an afterthought when the season began. Well, now he’s earning his keep. Egnew plays some fullback in the base offense and his drawn praise for his blocking. He caught two passes against the Patriots and has gained the trust of this coaching staff.
• Running back Marcus Thigpen: We know him best as the guy who returns kickoffs and punts, but Thigpen has meant much more than that to this team. He is a change-of-pace running back who has a certain number of plays called specifically for his talents. One such play was the game-winning catch against the Patriots when Thigpen adjusted well to make a tough play look easy.
• Safety Don Jones: Another seventh-round pick. Another long shot. Another player who has quietly put together a nice season. For Jones, it is on special teams. He is tied for the team lead with nine special teams tackles and who can forget the jarring tackle on Harry Douglass that forced a huge late-game fumble in the victory over Atlanta?
Certainly there are others. Each week the script changes. Last Sunday was Michael Thomas’ moment. Maybe this Sunday in Buffalo it will be someone else. One thing, though, is certain: Without these back-up players stepping up, without the important depth that they provide, the Dolphins wouldn’t be having this type of season.
On Friday, AC in the AM breaks down Sunday’s game against Buffalo
The opinions, analysis and/or speculation expressed by The Finsiders Blog represent those of individual writers, and unless quoted or clearly labeled as such, do not represent the opinions, policies or desires of the Miami Dolphins organization, front office, coaches and executives. Writers' views are formulated independently from any inside information and/or conversation with Dolphins officials, including the coaches and scouts, unless otherwise noted.