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Dolphins’ Jaylen Waddle, Raheem Mostert, two safeties questionable for playoff game vs. Chiefs

MIAMI GARDENS — The Miami Dolphins will go into Saturday night’s playoff game against the Kansas City Chiefs with wide receiver Jaylen Waddle and running back Raheem Mostert questionable.

Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel indicated as much in a news conference ahead of the team’s Thursday drills, their only true practice before the 8 p.m. Saturday kickoff in below-freezing temperatures at Arrowhead Stadium.

“We haven’t had any setbacks with those two, and I’m feeling optimistic with both,” McDaniel said of the pair of offensive playmakers who missed the team’s final two regular-season games with their ankle injuries.

Both went through a limited day of work at Thursday’s practice. Mostert went through basic handoffs at light speed. Waddle, who suffered a high ankle sprain Dec. 24 against the Dallas Cowboys, ran routes on air (against no defense) and looked somewhat close to his swift self but coming up gimpy after routes.

McDaniel said part of the reason they’re questionable, despite his optimism, is the trickle-down effect that having a player get hurt during the game has on — not only the affected unit — but several position groups with players having to slide into different special teams roles and such.

A return for Mostert and Waddle would provide an immense boost to a Miami offense that has sputtered in losses to the Baltimore Ravens and Buffalo Bills, with star wide receiver Tyreek Hill also playing through an ailing ankle and new quadriceps injury. Mostert and Waddle have combined for 2,213 yards of total offense this season.

If Mostert can’t play, or is limited Saturday night, rookie speedster De’Von Achane could see significant action in the backfield, with Jeff Wilson Jr. balancing Achane’s electricity with his power. The run game could be a big factor in the elements, with forecasts projecting temperatures below 0 degrees.

Also questionable are the Dolphins’ two starting safeties — Jevon Holland with two hurt knees and DeShon Elliott with a calf injury. Both missed the entire week of practice resting to be prepared for the game, along with cornerback Xavien Howard, who was already ruled out Thursday.

Elliott played all but six snaps against the Bills last Sunday night — and came down with an interception — despite hurting the calf in pregame warmups.

“He might as well have a post office box in the training room here and get his mail delivered there,” McDaniel said of Elliott for the time he has spent receiving medical treatment. “The way DeShon really pressed through that game last week, he’s not going to be able to take any reps to get that calf to his best position. He seems to be of the stubborn quality where I’m optimistic about him, but I still won’t know.”

Holland played 27 snaps in his second game back from a four-game absence, but he had to ask out of the game when the two knees, which previously had MCL sprains, flared up.

“Those two are going to be game-day decisions, for sure, based upon their ambition to play in the game, their work,” McDaniel said.

If the one of the two safeties can’t play against the Chiefs, Brandon Jones would be counted on to start. If both, it could be Elijah Campbell up next.

“It don’t get bigger than that,” Campbell said of possibly playing in historic Arrowhead in a playoff game after starting just one game defensively in the regular season. “It does, in the future, but that’s a big, intimidating place to start.”

Part of that trickle-down effect on special teams McDaniel alluded to falls on Campbell, a core special teams contributor.

“I’m going to try to do the most for the team, if I have to play special teams too,” Campbell said, while not acknowledging whether he would indeed handle both responsibilities. “I’m going to answer the call, no matter what.”

McDaniel has previously said he didn’t expect Howard to be available in Kansas City for a depleted secondary and defense overall, with the unit’s top three edge rushers sidelined for the season, along with inside linebacker Jerome Baker.

For the Chiefs, wide receivers Kadarius Toney (hip/ankle) and Justyn Ross (hamstring) are questionable and tackle Wanya Morris (concussion) is out.

Belichick, Saban reaction

McDaniel reacted to the Thursday morning news that New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick was parting ways with the rival organization in the AFC East.

He offered thoughts on Belichick’s legacy, lumping in Nick Saban, who retired Wednesday from Alabama, and Pete Carroll, who parted ways with the Seattle Seahawks.

“They have as much responsibility to what the game is right now as anybody that’s around,” McDaniel said. “I have so much respect and regard for being able to do what they’ve done for that amount of time. I have a very close first-hand experience on what it means, the sacrifice it takes to do this job. It is a sacrifice — such a blessing, such an opportunity — but you really have to pour yourself into it. And when you do that for a quarter century, I can’t say enough positive words about Coach Belichick, and I lump Coach Carroll and Nick Saban in there because it feels the same way.”

Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who spoke to reporters Wednesday moments before the Saban retirement news broke, addressed the media again in the locker room Thursday to offer his thoughts on his college coach at Alabama.

“Very, very, very grateful to have been able to play under Nick Saban,” Tagovailoa said. “I don’t know how he was able to find someone like me all the way out there in Hawaii, being in Alabama, so for me to have gotten that opportunity, I wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t gotten that opportunity. … He will be missed. I know a lot of people feeling him retiring.”

Air and Ground

Three quarterbacks and running backs were nominated Thursday for the FedEx Air and Ground Player of the Year awards, and the Dolphins were represented in each.

Tagovailoa and Mostert were among the three selections in each. Tagovailoa was joined by Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott and the San Francisco 49ersBrock Purdy. Mostert has 49ers running back Christian McCaffrey and the Los Angeles RamsKyren Williams as his competition.