Miami Dolphins: C.J. Spiller

DAVIE, Fla. -- One of the feel-good stories of Week 1 in the NFL took an unexpected turn during the week. Miami Dolphins undrafted rookie Chris McCain, who blocked a punt and recorded a sack on New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, got ill soon after as the rest of the team prepared for Sunday's game against the Buffalo Bills.

However, McCain returned to the team Thursday in good spirits and participated in his first practice of the week.

[+] EnlargeChris McCain and Tom Brady
AP Photo/Lynne SladkyAn illness during the week tempered Chris McCain's breakout first game, but the undrafted Dolphins rookie expects to play Sunday.
"I feel good to be back here and be able to come back at practice," McCain said. "I feel good and preparing for Buffalo this week. It was bad enough to where it held me out of practice. But I'm thankful it didn't hold me out all week. It wasn't too bad, a couple days."

McCain expects to play despite missing practice Tuesday and Wednesday.

"I still need a little bit extra preparation, but I think I'll be ready for Sunday when that time comes," he said.

McCain has an interesting backstory. He was a long shot to make the Dolphins after numerous red flags that included getting kicked out of college at the University of California. In addition, McCain went undrafted with a long road to earn a spot on the 53-man roster. He also had to stay focused and out of trouble with the Dolphins.

But McCain did all the right things since joining the team and let his natural athleticism shine. He was a standout in training camp and during the preseason, which set the table for his Week 1 showing against the Patriots.

The Dolphins are thin at linebacker with Dannell Ellerbe (hip) on season-ending injured reserve and the statuses of Koa Misi (ankle) and Philip Wheeler (thumb) up in the air. They could need a backup linebacker like McCain to step up for the second week in a row against Buffalo's talented backfield led by C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson.

"They're very dangerous," McCain said. "C.J. is a very speedy guy, very shifty. Fred is also good. We just have to be ready for the quickness. I believe with our front guys and our second-level guys we'll be able to hold on to whatever we come up against."
DAVIE, Fla. -- One Miami Dolphins starting linebacker (Dannell Ellerbe) recently was put on season-ending injured reserve. A second starting linebacker (Koa Misi) is walking around in a boot, unable to practice so far this week. A third starting linebacker (Philip Wheeler) missed Week 1 and still has a small cast on his hand.

Welcome to the current plight of Miami's linebacker position.

[+] EnlargeMiami's Jelani Jenkins
Mike Ehrmann/Getty ImagesJelani Jenkins and Miami's backup linebackers held the Patriots scoreless in the second half in Week 1.
The Dolphins have been hit hard at one position early this regular season. Miami played the entire second half last weekend without its three starting linebackers but persevered to earn an impressive, 33-20, victory over the New England Patriots.

With success comes confidence. The Dolphins held New England scoreless in the second half playing backup linebackers Jason Trusnik, Jelani Jenkins and Jonathan Freeny. Miami has truly adopted the "next man up" approach at linebacker.

“That’s football,” Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin said. “You can’t really lose a lot of sleeper over it. Injuries occur. That’s part of the game.”

Sunday will present another tough test against the Buffalo Bills (1-0), who swept Miami last season. The Bills are 3-1 against the Dolphins since Philbin took over in 2012.

One reason the Bills have been successful against Miami is due to Buffalo’s rushing attack led by tailbacks C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson. The Bills certainly will test Miami’s run defense and linebackers again on Sunday.

“They are definitely a great one-two punch. They proved that this week,” Trusnik said. “I think they put up around 200 (yards) or something like that this week between the two of them. Both are great backs and have some speed. Spiller has some great speed. Jackson still has a lot left in the tank.”

The status of Wheeler and Misi remain up in the air for Sunday. Wheeler participated Tuesday in the portion of practice open to the media, which is a good sign. Misi did not participate in the media viewing portion. The Dolphins are required to release their first injury report of the week Wednesday afternoon.

New Dolphins linebacker Kelvin Sheppard, who signed on Monday, could be a wild card. The former third-round pick was highly-touted coming out of college. But he didn't last long in Buffalo or with the Indianapolis Colts. Sheppard will get plenty of opportunities in Miami considering its recent string of injuries. Philbin said Sheppard is on the “accelerated program” to see if he can learn the defense and contribute.

“As far as on the field, I feel I’m a very physical linebacker,” Sheppard said. “I love getting downhill against the run and getting in there. This team did a tremendous job on Sunday against the run against the Patriots. So I just hope I can come in and add to that dimension of the game.”

Double Coverage: Bills at Dolphins

October, 17, 2013
Thad Lewis and Cameron WakeGetty Images, AP PhotoBanged-up Bills QB Thad Lewis will feel pressure from Miami pass-rusher Cameron Wake.

Sunday's matchup at Sun Life Stadium involves AFC East teams on a pair of two-game losing streaks.

The Miami Dolphins (3-2) will host the Buffalo Bills (2-4) in a game with several interesting storylines. Miami and Buffalo split their season series in 2012.

Can the Dolphins get on track at home? Will Buffalo get its act together and win its first game on the road? Bills reporter Mike Rodak and Dolphins reporter James Walker weigh in:

James Walker: Mike, let's begin by discussing this past week. The Dolphins enjoyed their bye and got a chance to recuperate from their injuries. This will probably be as healthy as Miami has been since Week 1, especially on defense. The Dolphins are still reeling after back-to-back losses against the New Orleans Saints and Baltimore Ravens. But Miami should feel good about itself heading into Sunday's game against the Bills, who are also on a two-game losing streak. After facing Andrew Luck, Matt Ryan, Drew Brees and Joe Flacco the past four games, the Dolphins' defense feels better about its chances against Buffalo. Bills quarterback Thad Lewis played a solid game in Week 6 against the Cincinnati Bengals, but he also has a sprained foot. What are your expectation of Lewis and what challenges will he present?

Mike Rodak: The expectation is that Lewis will play Sunday. Head coach Doug Marrone said Monday that tests on Lewis' foot were clean. However, he was in a walking boot after Sunday's loss to the Bengals, and when he took it off, Lewis was heavily labored in trying to walk across the locker room. If that doesn't fully clear up in the next few days, Lewis might be limited in what he'll be able to do against the Dolphins. Lewis was billed as a mobile quarterback with a strong arm, and although it was just one game, he lived up to those expectations against Cincinnati. With the injury, I don't think the Dolphins have to worry too much about Lewis' scrambling ability, but they will need to watch out for the deep ball, as the Bills have a speedy group of receivers.

James, I saw a statistical comparison the other night between Luck and Ryan Tannehill, two of the top quarterbacks in the 2012 draft. Luck has more career yards (5,720) than Tannehill (4,677) and also has a better touchdown-to-interception ratio (30-to-21 for Luck; 18-to-18 for Tannehill). But Tannehill has a better completion percentage (59.5) than Luck (55.8), and their QB ratings are nearly identical. Luck has received most of the national publicity, but what's the feeling in Miami about Tannehill in his first season-plus?

Walker: It's mostly optimistic in South Florida. The Dolphins have lost two in a row but Tannehill is not the problem. Miami has two major issues on offense that could help Buffalo: The Dolphins' running game is ranked 29th in the NFL and their pass protection is horrid. Tannehill has been sacked 24 times in five games. That's inexcusable if Miami wants its QB to last all 16 games this season. But Tannehill has shown toughness and poise through it all. When he has time, Tannehill has made some stellar throws. He looks the part of the franchise quarterback thus far. Although Tannehill's statistics aren't through the roof, I've actually beaten the drum that he is performing above expectations in Year 2 because of the adversity he is facing.

Mike, it looks like the Bills certainly have their running game figured out with tailbacks C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson. Why has Buffalo been so successful on the ground despite a rotating door at quarterback?

Rodak: I think a lot of it stems from the toughness of Spiller and Jackson. Spiller got off to a slow start and then was hit by back-to-back injuries in Weeks 3 and 4. But he showed guts in Week 5 against Cleveland, limping his way to a 54-yard touchdown, and also had a strong performance against Cincinnati. Meanwhile, Jackson is having a career season, even at 32 years old and despite battling a sprained MCL in recent weeks. He's third in the NFL behind Ben Tate and Alfred Morris in yards gained after contact. I think what's troubling, though, for the Bills is that they are third in the NFL in rushing (149 yards per game) but 27th in time of possession. That's an unusual combination, the result of a fast-paced offensive philosophy that might not be getting the most out of Spiller and Jackson's production.

James, what's the latest on Cameron Wake? The Dolphins' foes in the AFC East know all too well how dangerous he can be when he's healthy. Will he be a full go on Sunday? And if not, can we expect Dion Jordan to make any sort of impact? Some gushed about his talent back in the spring, but it doesn't seem like he has been a factor thus far.

Walker: A big smile was back on Wake's face this week, which is a good indication that he's feeling closer to 100 percent. I think the bye did wonders for Wake and several ailing players on Miami's defense. This will be as healthy as this group has been in about a month. Wake plays so hard and so violent that it's difficult for him to play at 70 percent or 75 percent. That's what we saw in the last game against Baltimore when he tried to play on a bum knee for just one series. I expect Wake to be much closer to full strength on Sunday. As far as Jordan, I blame Miami's coaching staff for keeping the kid gloves on too long with the rookie. The Dolphins use Jordan only on special teams and as a situational pass-rusher. But Jordan has made several impact plays in limited playing time. He had a tipped ball against Flacco in Week 5 that caused a pick-six. Jordan has earned more playing time, and I'm curious to see if the Dolphins oblige following the bye.

Finally, Mike, Buffalo is winless on the road and within the AFC East. Both factors are in play here. What Bills team do you expect to show up Sunday in Miami?

Rodak: I think we'll see a competitive game Sunday. Despite their 2-4 record, the Bills have hung tight in every game they've played. More than anything, I'll look for the way Lewis handles himself on the road. I thought EJ Manuel struggled against both the Jets and the Browns, prior to his injury. Maybe Lewis, in his fourth season, will be steadier when away from Ralph Wilson Stadium. I also think that the Bills are starting to get healthier. If they are ever able to get back to full strength, or close to it, they can be dangerous. They've shown as much at points this season.