Prowess on special teams limiting Aikens’ roles
DAVIE — Have you ever been so good at one aspect of a job that your employer rarely lets you do anything else?
Have you been pigeonholed into one specific role?
If so, then Walt your pain.
Since Aikens, a safety the Miami Dolphins selected in the fourthround of the 2014 draft, developed into a standout special teams performer — a dominant gunner other NFL coaches use as the standard to instruct players on how the gunner role is supposed to be played — the former Liberty standout hasn’t been allowed to do much else during his six-year career.
Aikens plays on all four special teams units, with his play count typically reaching 25 to 30 snaps per game. His impact is so significant that other teams typically assign two players to defend him.
“Even during game play, I hear other players say, ‘Third-five right
Aikens feels there! Thirty-five right there!’ ” Aikens said, referring to his jersey number. “If I know they’re looking for me, I know I’ve got to really show up because I know they’re going to be coming for me.”
That level of attention is one of the reasons the Dolphins typically haven’t allowed Aikens to play on defense.
However, Michael Thomas served as the nickel cornerback and starting free safety when he was a four-core special teams player during his tenure with the Dolphins.
So why can’t Aikens?
At least that’s the question Aikens, a team captain, often finds himself asking his coaches after he lost his starting safety spot to Thomas, who spent the past two years with the New York Giants, in 2015.
Aikens likely has lobbied hard for himself this week since the Dolphins must replace starting safeties Reshad Jones and Bobby McCain after both were placed on injured reserve this week.
“We have our discussions,” said Aikens, who has 18 tackles this season. “It’s all about the game plan for each week.
“I feel like the coaches will put you in the best position, so if my name is called, I’ll do what I’ve got to do.”
When asked if he has wondered what he must to do to get an opportunity on defense, Aikens’ response was “for sure.”
He has asked that exact question multiple times to the numerous coaches he’s had during his lengthy Dolphins career, which has outlasted two other head coaches. But Aikens has never let the answer get him down or altered his goal of eventually earning playing time on defense.
As it stands, the Dolphins will likely use Steven Parker and cornerbacks Eric Rowe and Jomal Wiltz to replace Jones and McCain.
When the Dolphins have used Aikens on defense the past few seasons, it has been to defend tight ends — as he did earlier this year against the Dallas Cowboys the week Minkah Fitzpatrick got traded to the Pittsburgh Steelers — or to shadow athletic quarterbacks.
But in 10 games as a defender, Aikens has played fewer than 70 snaps.
“Defensively, when he gets his opportunities, I think he’s gone in there and done a good job,” Dolphins coach Brian Flores said. “We may see him. We may see him out there.”
Aikens, who is in the final year of a two-year contract that pays him $1.4 million this season, realizes more than his pride is on the line.
What happens in these final six games could dictate the 28-year-old’s NFL future.
“I feel like I can play defense at any given time,” Aikens said. “I’m ready. It’s just all about the opportunity when my name is called, stepping up to the plate.
“I’m preparing just like I would go into any other game, knowing what I’ve got to do, being prepared and focused.”