Among the greatest points of interest on the Dolphins this season has been watching the use (and by that I mean the relatively little use) of defensive end Dion Jordan.
Jordan, the Dolphins first-round selection and the draft's No. 3 overall pick, is a part-time player. He has participated in only 28.3 percent of the Dolphins defensive snaps this year. And that would be more than acceptable to the fan base if Jordan was a third-rounder instead of the third player picked. It would be acceptable if he didn't show so much promise. It would be fine if he didn't make plays.
But the fact is when Jordan has gotten his chances, he's shown up.
That was him hitting Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco's arm to cause the ball to fly harmlessly like a punt and be intercepted by Reshad Jones, who returned it for a touchdown.
That was Jordan running stride for stride with New England tight end Rob Gronkowski down the left sideline Sunday and picking up a pass defensed -- an eye popping example of the defensive end's speed and athleticism.
"I watched film on the guy and I understood that (Tom) Brady was going to try to get the ball to him," Jordan said of that match with Gronk. "That's not my first time playing in coverage. I understood what I had to do. I felt like I was going to be able to run with him. That wasn't a problem at all. I just had to brush up on the little things. It's been a minute since I covered a guy that far down the field so I was up for the challenge."
Yet Jordan, for all his ability, is a situational player so far his rookie year. He has 145 total snaps. Derrick Shelby, by comparison, has 262 snaps so far this year. Olivier Vernon leads all Miami defensive ends with 415 snaps. Even Cameron Wake, who missed multiple games with a knee injury and has been limited in his snaps the past two games, has 196 snaps.
So the question that lingers is if the Dolphins have this resource of talent on their roster, why don't they use him more?
Well, the Dolphins coaching staff doesn't think Jordan has earned more.
"I think I’ve said before, players earn playing time based on their performance and what they do in the building, in the weight room, in the training room, on the practice field, on the game field so beyond that everybody has to earn their playing time on the field," coach Joe Philbin said.
Indeed, Jordan said he's gotten the message from coaches that if he wants to play more, he has to show better in practice.
"Yeah, and I recognize that," he said. "You just have to prove to your coach that you're able to play in certain situations. I just have to be more progressive every day, I have to find a way to make myself that much better as far as fitting into a role on the defense and understanding our opponents week to week.
"That's my goal every time I take the field, no matter what it is. To get better and compete. I understand those are the things that make the great players great. I'm trying to find a way to challenge myself. That's what I've been doing, trying to progress and do the little things right."
The perception to this point has been that the Dolphins have limited Jordan's role to manage his health. He had shoulder surgery early in the year and missed much of training camp after re-injuring the shoulder in a preseason game.
So there's an idea that coaches simply don't want to get Jordan hurt.
"Not really," Jordan said. "Pretty much it's me just having to prove to my coaches what the deal is in practice. Philbin and my position coach and the guys in the training room understand I'm getting much better as far as my shoulder but at the same time, you know, you have to prove on the field you are able to go out there and do the job. I just have to progress and get better every day.
"I'm good with the shoulder. I just have to get over the (practice) hump. That's all it is. I missed a lot coming into the season and so I just have to find a way to progress. We're about halfway through this thing and I feel like I'm getting more comfortable as I take the field and the more snaps that I get."
That's obviously the way the Dolphins coaching staff is approaching this and it is not wrong. But there is the alternate idea that because Jordan has shown promise in limited game day snaps, maybe he'd make more plays with more game day snaps.
Is that wrong?
"No, not at all," Jordan said. "With me as the more comfortable I get, the more snaps I take, that's the way it is. Me personally, I feel like I have to maximize the opportunities that I get. That's the deal."
There is also a perception publicly and even in the Dolphins building that Jordan is a liability against the run so he must be limited to pass plays. That's the reason 95 of his 145 snaps have been pass-rush snaps. And it is fair to note, Jordan is not a finished product. He is learning to protect the edge of the defense. He has to learn to be a technically better run defender. He could probably use a bit more strength, too.
But according to ProFootballFocus.com, Jordan isn't nearly as bad against the run as people might think. Yes, he has a minus-1.0 run defense grade so far this season. But guess what? Derrick Shelby has a minus-1.6 run defense grade. So Jordan has been better against the run than the Dolphins' designated run-stopping defensive end.
And while Jordan's pass rush grade is a gaudy 3.1 (second behind only Wake's 4.8) he simply makes more of an impact per snaps in the pass rush than either Shelby or Vernon.
Understand that Jordan has 10 quarterback hurries and three quarterback hits so far. Vernon has 16 quarterback hurries and two quarterback hits -- but also has 2 1/2 times more pass rush snaps than Jordan.
Regardless of the metrics, however, don't expect the Dolphins coaching staff to be moved. They trust their eyes. They're going to manage Jordan until he pops in practice first. Until then he'll be a situational player.