Miami Dolphins plan to give suspended safety T.J. McDonald full reps

New Dolphins safety T.J. McDonald presents an interesting challenge for the coaching staff, which was thrilled to land someone of his talent in free agency but knows he’ll miss the first half of the season due to suspension.

McDonald was one of the top safeties available this offseason and is expected to compete for a starting job once he’s clear to return. In the meantime, Miami will work him as though the suspension doesn’t exist.

“We’re just going to practice him,” coach Adam Gase said this morning at a Fins Weekend event. “We’re going to give him the reps that he needs. We’ve got to go through our process with him. I’ve played against him, but I haven’t seen him practice and go through a daily routine and all those type of things, so we need to get used to him as he needs to get used to us.”

McDonald, 26, was a four-year starter with the Rams before signing with the Dolphins in late March. He’s on a one-year deal and will serve an eight-game suspension because what was basically a DUI last May (California classified the charge as “wet reckless,” and McDonald pleaded nolo contendre).

He played every game last season and had two interceptions to go with six pass break-ups. Pro Football Focus rated him the No. 58 safety in the league.

McDonald is full-go until the opening week of the season. He is free to participate in Organized Team Activities, minicamp in June, training camp and preseason games. He cannot practice once his suspension takes effect.

McDonald, who was also at Miami Beach Golf Course, is frustrated by the idea of missing so many games, but it isn’t affecting how he approaches the season.

“It’s going to be difficult anytime you can’t play,” he said. “Right now I’m just taking advantage of the time I’ve got to learn the system and get to know my teammates, and when my time comes I’ll be ready.

“I’m just out here ready to play. I’m going to be ready when my name is called; it doesn’t change how I attack the game and how I go about getting ready.”

The Dolphins have 2015 Pro Bowl pick Reshad Jones, fresh off a $60 million contract extension, locked in at one safety spot. Free agent Nate Allen, a one-year signee, is the leader for the other. Miami also has Michael Thomas, Walt Aikens, A.J. Hendy and undrafted rookie Maurice Smith.

McDonald will have to earn consideration over the next four months, then prove he can jump right after serving the suspension. He is eligible to play Nov. 5 against the Raiders.

“It’s a good signing for us because we feel like that position is something that we didn’t do as well as we needed to,” Gase said. “Last year we got a little thin and some guys had to really step up and play and try to fill into some roles and they were playing multiple roles. We wanted to make sure that didn’t happen this year and we wanted to sign enough guys that we felt comfortable at that spot.”

At a minimum, the combination of Jones and McDonald would give Miami two big hitters in the secondary. Both are equipped to come down and play against the run.

Jones checks in at 6-foot-1, 214 pounds, and McDonald is 6-foot-2, 217 pounds. Jones had 135 tackles in 2015, his last healthy season, before exiting early last year with a shoulder injury. McDonald had 62 stops last year.

“He’s a guy you can definitely pick his brain and learn a lot from,” McDonald said of Jones. “I’ve got a lot of respect for him, definitely… We’re physical players, definitely guys that can get on the ball, and anytime you add that together it’s good.

“He’s a lot bigger than I thought he was. Us two together back there, that’s pretty big. That’s a lot of hits.”

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