Byron Jones' return still in question as Miami Dolphins seek stability at cornerback

Noah Igbinoghene gave up a touchdown to Jaelon Darden on Saturday, but the former first-round draft pick is getting opportunities to prove himself as he vies for playing time in his third season. AP Photo/Phelan Ebenhack

MIAMI -- One of this summer's themes for the Miami Dolphins is taking advantage of opportunities.

It's part of the reason why first-year coach Mike McDaniel has run shorter practices than the allotted two hours. It's about making the reps count.

"That's what the team needs to be the team that we all want it to be," he said. "Which is that people recognize each and every rep as an opportunity, and you utilize it to your best advantage."

With starting cornerback Byron Jones still on the physically unable to perform list entering the fourth week of camp, the Dolphins have sought a successor at cornerback opposite Xavien Howard. Jockeying for the position throughout the summer were former first-round pick Noah Igbinoghene, free agent signee Keion Crossen and former undrafted free agent Trill Williams -- until Williams tore the ACL in his left knee on Saturday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, leaving Miami even thinner at cornerback.

Igbinoghene has received the largest opportunity to fill Jones' role in the short term, but despite praise from his teammates and coaches, he's struggled in practice and in Saturday's game. It's not easy covering Dolphins receiver Tyreek Hill, but Igbinoghene was targeted purposefully throughout the team's joint practices with Tampa Bay last week and was the nearest defender on a 23-yard touchdown pass from Blaine Gabbert to Jaelon Darden.

McDaniel took responsibility for the play in which Igbinoghene appeared to play outside leverage on Darden and left him too much of a cushion, saying he hadn't prepared his players properly for that situation. However, he did describe the play as a learning experience for the third-year corner.

"It's something that if it happens again, I would be more critical on," McDaniel said. "I talked to Noah during the game and he can let it loose, play what he sees, and don't be as conservative. It was definitely a learning moment."

Igbinoghene, an Auburn product who was a wide receiver in college before converting to cornerback, has yet to find his footing in the NFL during his first two seasons, and at this rate, the Dolphins won't pick up his fifth-year option when the time comes in May 2023.

"You're not going to be able to stop everything," said Igbinoghene, who's trying not to let the impact of the mistakes linger. "You're not going to be able to beat everybody every single time. Everybody gets paid in this league. Everybody is a pro athlete and everybody is playing in the NFL.

"I've just got to do my job the best way I know how, and if I do that count in and count out, I know how dominant I can be. I'm just putting the work in, and I can't wait just to show it off."

Miami placed Williams on injured reserve Monday, and although Crossen broke up a pass during Saturday's game and has played well in practice, the team chose to add cornerback depth in the form of Mackensie Alexander.

Alexander was primarily used as a slot corner last season with the Bengals, but McDaniel said Miami sees him as versatile enough to play either cornerback position and challenge for a spot on the team's final 53-man roster.

As for Jones' return, McDaniel said the Dolphins are "very hopeful" he will be ready for their season opener against the Patriots. He's yet to practice since undergoing surgery on his left Achilles tendon in March, although a source told ESPN at the time that he was expected to be ready for training camp. McDaniel said Jones is "exactly where we thought he'd be at this point" and is starting to incorporate some change-of-direction drills into his rehab.

McDaniel didn't put a timeline on how long Jones will need before he's ready to play but did say the eight-year veteran's experience shortens his ramp-up period.

In the meantime, a starter has yet to emerge -- and it's one of the major concerns for a team that can't afford to start the season in a hole for a second straight year after starting 1-7 in 2021.