The Miami Dolphins might be forced to play without two-time Pro Bowl pass rusher Cameron Wake for at least a week, maybe two.
Sources say a series of tests Wake underwent on Monday revealed a "mild" medial collateral ligament sprain in his left knee. The injury won't require surgery but will likely keep him on the sidelines a few days. However, Wake is optimistic he'll be able to play through some of the knee pain, if the trainers allow it.
If he can't, it will mean the Dolphins (3-0) will likely play Monday night's game against the New Orleans Saints (3-0) without their top pass rusher, who suffered the injury on the first drive of Sunday's 27-23 victory over the Falcons.
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Derrick Shelby, a former Utah standout in his second year with the Dolphins, replaced Wake as Miami's first-team left defensive end and is likely first in line to fill the void Wake's absence creates.
Shelby has five tackles, two sacks and two forced fumbles in the three games he's played this season.
"Derrick kind of does what he does in practice. He does things very technically sound. He keeps his pads flat," coach Joe Philbin said of Wake's possible replacement. "He's very instinctive as a football player. That showed up on film."
Also in the mix is rookie Dion Jordan, the Dolphins' third overall pick, who was used in the sub package against the Falcons and actually played the run for the first time during the regular season against Atlanta. Jordan has contributed five tackles and one sack in his three games.
The Dolphins have brought Jordan along slowly because of a shoulder injury he's been nursing since February. But his productivity against Atlanta hints the former college linebacker at Oregon is ready to have more put on his plate.
Jordan rushed the quarterback in 20 of the 31 snaps he played against the Falcons, contributing two tackles and four quarterback hurries. According to @ProFootballFocus.com, Jordan was the Dolphins' highest-rated defender on a per-snap basis in last Sunday's game.
"We're seeing more and more of Dion and he's getting better," said defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle. "The fact is, we want to expand his role, and he showed things in the game yesterday which lead us to believe that we can continue to keep feeding him more."
Jordan will likely be used in a defensive line rotation that now features Olivier Vernon and Shelby. He'll also maintain his pass-rushing specialist role, coming onto the field on obvious passing downs.
It is possible Wake won't be the only starting defensive lineman the Dolphins play without against the Saints.
Nose tackle Paul Soliai suffered a similar knee injury against the Colts and missed Sunday's game. Soliai's status remains uncertain, which isn't good considering the Dolphins struggled stopping the run against the Falcons, who gained 146 rushing yards on 30 carries.
"We missed too many tackles. There's no question about it. We have to tackle better," Philbin said. "We are not going to invent a whole lot of new defenses. We play our defense. We are going to play over. We are going to play under. We've got to execute our techniques and fundamentals better, and our No. 1 fundamental that we work on every single day is tackling. We've got to do it better."