The Miami Dolphins defense suffered a big loss in their secondary during the first joint practice against the Carolina Panthers on Wednesday morning. Starting safety Louis Delmas tore the ACL in his right knee - the same knee he tore last time - and is now confirmed to be out for the season.
The injury to Delmas is a right anterior cruciate ligament which has once again torn, and the loss is especially disheartening for the team as the veteran safety had just accomplished a borderline miraculous recovery to come back from his previous injury.
“It’s a big blow being that he just came off of injury less than nine months ago,” Aikens said of Delmas' injury. “It hurt us, but we’re praying for him and we’re going to move forward from this.”
Part of what made Delmas such an effective player in the defense was his understanding of the playbook and his ability as a field general, as he was consistently seen directing younger players where to go before the snap. His leadership was second to none, and the players themselves acknowledged that about Delmas.
“He means a lot." said wide receiver Rishard Matthews. "I’d say if not one of the best leaders, he is the best leader on our team, he brings a lot of excitement to the game. I think everybody will tell you he’s just an exciting player to be around.”
Excitement was part of what made Delmas' leadership so valuable. His personality was infectious and it often spread to several other players on the team, which is why his teammates respected him as a person as well as a player, fueling the argument that he was a top team leader.
“He’s a great teammate, a great guy. It’s bigger than football. I just went to make sure his mind is right and say a prayer for him,” strong safety Reshad Jones said. “Next guy in, you have to be ready. Coach does a great job of preparing each and every individual and I think we have great depth at the position. The next guy should be ready.”
That next guy will likely be safety Walt Aikens, who was drafted in the fourth round of the 2014 NFL draft out of Liberty. While his rookie stats are underwhelming to say the least - 15 tackles and one interception - the young player has made great strides to improve and has shown that he is physically capable of taking Delmas' spot.
“I’m just out here doing what the coaches ask me to do." Aikens said. "They need somebody to step up. I’m here getting better every day, trying to do whatever I can to help the team.”
Aikens managed to rise on the depth chart to the point where he was above veteran defensive back Michael Thomas, who is also currently in the running to take the starting free safety spot left vacant by Delmas and will now have to make a stronger showing than Aikens to take the job.
“We’ll see." head coach Joe Philbin said regarding whether or not Aikens was ready to step up and start. "Again, it’s a little early on all of that stuff, but Walt’s had a good camp, he’s improved. He’s been practicing well and he’s real serious about everything that he’s done. I like where he’s at, but we’ll see where everything is at.”
As for Aikens himself, he's exhibited nothing but confidence in himself as he takes up this new challenge that awaits him, and he'll have his first big test against Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers on Saturday.
“Not worried about it. We’re just gonna ball,” Aikens said. “I’ve been with these guys for two years. I’ve got all the confidence in the world in these guys and they’ve got all the confidence in me. We’re just going to play football. It’s not that hard of a game.”
That statement simply oozes confidence, and so far it's been well-earned, as Aikens' physicality and play on the field has earned him this chance to prove he can fill Delmas' shoes; physically if nothing else, as his leadership ability will need to grow as time passes.
Teams may begin to sleep on the Dolphins secondary with the loss of Delmas, who when paired with strong safety Reshad Jones, was arguably part of one of the better safety tandems in the NFL. But Aikens has a very distinct message for teams who might start having that mentality.
"You can try it if you want to."
This story was written by Luis Sung. Follow him on Twitter: @FLSportDebater
Latest Dolphins News