Kelly: Slow down on talk Jaelan Phillips’ will be ready for start of 2024 season | Opinion

Jaelan Phillips walked onto the Miami Dolphins’ practice field two periods late for Tuesday’s OTA session and offered up a courtesy wave to the cameras and media members that followed, and examined his every step on Wednesday.

With each step the former Miami Hurricanes standout took there was a noticeable limp from Phillips, who tore the Achilles tendon in his right leg in late November and is facing a nine-to-12-month rehabilitation process.

While Phillips’ personal goal is to be ready for the start of the 2024 regular season, the limp on display hints he has plenty of work ahead of him, just to get back onto the practice field for unrestricted work.

Bradley Chubb, his pass rushing partner from the past two seasons, is also facing a nine-to-12-month rehabilitation process because of the ACL injury he sustained at the end of Miami’s 56-19 loss to the Baltimore Ravens, which took place on Dec. 31.

Even though Dolphins coaches remained consistent about not placing a timeline on either player, and use Jalen Ramsey’s miraculous three-month recovery from a MCL knee injury last season as the reason timelines should be avoided, it’s possible Miami will begin the 2024 season without both of the team’s starting end rushers.

It’s also clear that the training staff’s biggest concern is that either player will push himself too hard and possibly suffer a setback trying to rush their recovery process.

“From the onset, you really have to keep an eye on both those guys to make sure they aren’t doing too much,” said Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel, who has previously admitted that the Dolphins training staff has had to ban Phillips and Chubb from training for a week this spring. “The second they were able to move around without a scooter they were hard-pressed to do over exaggerated [activities].

“[We’re] really protecting the Miami Dolphins from those individuals themselves because they will do too much too soon,” McDaniel continued. “They are doing great day by day.”

The Dolphins will likely be forced to use Shaquil Barrett, a free agent addition, and rookies Chop Robinson and Mohamed Kamara in their place are the starting and rotational edge players until Phillips, Chubb and Cameron Goode, who also sustained a patella tendon injury that features a nine-to-12-month timeline, are cleared for football activity.

Phillips, who contributed 43 tackles, 6.5 sacks, 11 quarterback hits, and pulled down his first career interception in the eight games he played, is far from the first NFL player who has had to come back from an Achilles injury.

Last year Nik Needham began the 2023 season on the PUP because of an Achilles injury he sustained in November.

The veteran cornerback missed the season’s first seven games, but participated in the last 10 contests, working mainly on special teams and in Miami’s dime defensive package.

Needham openly admitted the rehabilitation process was one of the most challenging things he had done in his career, and confessed he didn’t start feeling like himself until the end of the 2023 season.

Cameron Wake is the most fitting example of a player similar to Phillips who came back from an Achilles tendon injury in one season.

Wake’s injury occurred in the final days of October in the 2015 season, and he was back for the start of the 2016 regular season.

Wake came off the bench for the first five games of the 2016 season and was on a limited snap count. But after that he was inserted into the starting lineup and his snap count picked up.

He finished the season re-establishing himself as a pass rushing force, recording 10.5 sacks over the final 10 games, and helped that Adam Gase-led team finish 9-1 and qualify for the playoffs.

The hope is that Phillips will follow in Wake’s lead, and can soon shed the limp, and eventually regaining his status as an impact player in the Dolphins defense.