Dolphins' defensive depth will be tested by Patriots


DAVIE, Fla. -- The Miami Dolphins (7-6) are aware their season is on the line Sunday when they travel to face the AFC East-leading New England Patriots (10-3). Miami must run the table in the final three weeks to have a chance at the postseason, while the Patriots can clinch the division title with a victory.

However, if Miami is to keep its season alive, the team most likely must do it with several backup players taking on key roles.

Safety Jimmy Wilson and backup linebackers Kelvin Sheppard and Jason Trusnik are all projected to start against the Patriots at Gillette Stadium. Injuries hit Miami’s defense hard this week. The team lost starting safety Louis Delmas (knee) for the season in last week’s loss to the Baltimore Ravens. Starting linebackers Koa Misi (hamstring, knee) and Jelani Jenkins (foot) also missed all three practices this week, which puts their status in doubt.

Miami will release its final injury report Friday afternoon.

“Our backs are against the wall,” Wilson said. “We put ourselves here and the only way we’re going to get out of it is if we come to play and fight this Sunday.”

Wilson has received plenty of playing time. He started the first four games of the season -- including the Week 1 win over the Patriots -- due to the suspension of safety Reshad Jones. Now, Wilson will start the final three games following Delmas’ injury.

In between, Wilson was a valuable nickel cornerback for Miami. He has 39 tackles and one interception this season and is looking forward to the opportunity to start against arguably the hottest team in the NFL.

Despite being sizable underdogs, Miami often plays New England tough and has won the past two games in this series.

“It’s going to be a good game,” Wilson said. “I don’t know what everybody is thinking. But we’re going up there to try to come out with a victory. We have to start with this one.”

Look for the Patriots to try to take advantage of Miami’s injuries at linebacker. New England tight end Rob Gronkowski has 73 receptions for 997 yards and 10 touchdowns this season. He has the potential to give Miami’s defense major issues.

Trusnik is an eight-year veteran with 34 tackles this season, several of which came on special teams. He started five games due to injuries at linebacker and most likely will make his sixth start of the year Sunday.

Sheppard joined the Dolphins this season and has 12 tackles in limited playing time. But he has 31 career starts with the Indianapolis Colts and Buffalo Bills.

“If that’s what it is, I’m ready,” Sheppard said. “I’ve been a starter in this league for three years prior to me coming here. So if that’s what the challenge holds, I’m definitely up for the test.”