With the NFL preseason kicking off tonight and the Dolphins only a day away from their exhibition opener, it’s time to evaluate where the roster stands today.
This isn’t a prediction on my part. This is a freeze frame of what the Dolphins’ 53-man roster would look like if they were forced to make final cuts today, before the preseason.
Obviously, this is far from an exact science. Only Jeff Ireland, Tony Sparano, and company have the real answers and know who they would keep and who they would cut. But judging by the various media reports of practice and the perception surrounding each player, we can formulate an educated guess of what the final 53 might look like.
This being the first installment of the series, with four crucial preseason games still on the slate, this is more of a report on which players are in the driver’s seat and which players face an uphill battle to make the squad.
Quarterback: Chad Henne, Matt Moore, Kevin O’Connell
Cuts: Pat Devlin
This is actually going to be quite the competition for third-string quarterback. Henne and Moore are safe and sound, but the recently signed Kevin O’Connell and undrafted rookie Pat Devlin figure to have a photo finish to see which quarterback will be kept on the 53-man roster.
At this very second, I would have to give the slight edge to O’Connell. Even though Devlin has been solid for the first 11 practices, O’Connell has experience on his side. We’ll have to see what Devlin does with his preseason snaps, but if he continues to flash potential, he could easily overtake O’Connell for the job.
Running Back: Daniel Thomas, Reggie Bush, Lex Hilliard, Kory Sheets
Cuts: Nic Grigsby
With Reggie Bush possessing the tools to be the scatback this offense needs, I think Lex Hilliard is fairly close to being safe considering a capable workhorse as insurance for Daniel Thomas is a must. Kory Sheets and Nic Grigsby are of the speedy variety and will likely battle it out for the fourth and final running back spot.
The Dolphins could always choose to only keep three backs around this year, especially considering Charles Clay’s roster spot will likely lead to fullback, tight end, or running back dropping a player this season. With the inexperience of the group, though, I see the Dolphins keeping four as a precaution.
Fullback: Charles Clay, Lousaka Polite
It’s been speculated that Lousaka Polite is in real danger of losing his roster spot. After a lackluster blocking performance a year ago, that is indeed the case despite being the short-yardage ace that he is.
We’ll have to wait and see if Brian Daboll plans on utilizing a pure fullback in the new offense, but Polite sticks on for now at the expense of a third tight end.
Tight End: Anthony Fasano, Mickey Shuler
Cuts: Jeron Mastrud, Dedrick Epps, Brett Brackett
With Charles Clay figuring to be more of a receiving threat than anything, I see a third tight end getting the axe. Mickey Shuler is Fasano’s backup on the depth chart, so we’ll keep it that way until one of the others makes a strong impression. Jeron Mastrud is certainly capable of pushing him, as he’s made a few noteworthy plays so far in camp.
Wide Receiver: Brandon Marshall, Davone Bess, Brian Hartline, Roberto Wallace, Clyde Gates
Cuts: Marlon Moore, Julius Pruitt, Patrick Carter, Brooks Foster, Phillip Livas
Sparano has already hinted that Roberto Wallace is the man to beat for the fourth receiver spot. While, Clyde Gates will likely pass him up by Week 1 if he can make a few plays in the preseason, Wallace would still be first in line for the final roster vacancy at the position.
Marlon Moore will have a say in the matter after cracking the 53-man roster a year ago and being slightly more productive than Wallace. But now that a potential deep threat is in place (Gates), I see the Dolphins sticking with Wallace’s upside.
Offensive Tackle: Jake Long, Marc Colombo, Nate Garner, Lydon Murtha
Cuts: Ray Willis, Matt Kopa, Allen Barbre, D.J. Jones
The Dolphins have kept as few as three offensive tackles in the past, but with the uncertainty at right tackle with Vernon Carey moving to guard, keeping four this time around seems to be in order.
I think this is how it would shake out if cuts were made today, assuming of course, Jake Long is taken off the PUP list before final cuts. Ray Willis is certainly capable of making things interesting, though, and if he lands a roster spot, it would likely come at the expense of Marc Colombo.
Offensive Guard: Richie Incognito, Vernon Carey, Ray Feinga
Cuts: John Jerry
This is certainly a tossup at the moment, but John Jerry’s roster spot is definitely in jeopardy after struggling as a rookie and showing up to camp somewhat out of shape. In the end, I think it comes down to whether or not the Dolphins keep Joe Berger around to backup Mike Pouncey.
If Berger is cut, which is a strong possibility considering Richie Incognito could easily move inside if something were to happen to Pouncey, Jerry probably squeezes on the 53.
Center: Mike Pouncey, Joe Berger
For now, we’ll keep Berger on the team. But if Pouncey has an outstanding preseason, though, the Dolphins could feel safe parting ways with Berger, who was nothing short of dreadful when given the opportunity to start a year ago.
Defensive End: Randy Starks, Kendall Langford, Tony McDaniel, Jared Odrick, Phillip Merling
Cuts: Rob Rose, Johnny Jones
Let’s be honest, Rob Rose and Johnny Jones aren’t touching the Fab Five ahead of them. The Dolphins have kept five defensive ends in the past and Tony Sparano loves keeping around as many of those types of bodies as he can, so Merling likely makes the team. This is deep unit with the potential to be dominant, the league’s best even.
Nose Tackle: Paul Soliai, Ronald Fields
Cuts: Ryan Baker, Frank Kearse
With Randy Starks’ ability to move to nose if need be, there really is no reason to keep more than two nose tackles. Ronald Fields was brought in to address the previously had depth concerns behind Paul Soliai.
Outside Linebackers: Cameron Wake, Koa Misi, Jason Taylor, Ikaika Alama-Francis, Jason Trusnik
Cuts: Jonathan Freeny, Quinton Spears
The top five seem fairly safe from the outside looking in, but a standout preseason from either Freeny or Spears could always change that. Ikaika Alama-Francis was decent as an early-down run stuffer a year ago and Jason Trusnik figures to earn his spot on special teams.
Inside Linebackers: Karlos Dansby, Kevin Burnett, A.J. Edds, Austin Spitler
Cuts: Mike Rivera, David Nixon
Austin Spitler is on for now given that he was listed ahead of Rivera and is presumably in front of Nixon on the depth chart. But between the three, whoever has the bigger impact on special teams will make it on, contingent, of course, on if the Dolphins keep four inside linebackers.
Cornerback: Vontae Davis, Sean Smith, Benny Sapp, Nolan Carroll, Nate Ness
Cuts: Will Allen, Vince Agnew, Jose Perez, K.J. Gerard
If Will Allen doesn’t get healthy, and in a hurry, Benny Sapp is going to walk away with nickel corner. If that happens, I don’t really see Allen sticking around for the fourth boundary corner spot.
I see Nate Ness as the beneficiary of a released Allen for now, given his strong performance in last year’s preseason. But it’s a what have you done for me lately league, and one of the projected cuts could steal the show with a strong performance in the exhibitions.
Safety: Yeremiah Bell, Chris Clemons, Reshad Jones, Jimmy Wilson
Cuts: Tyrone Culver, Mark Restelli
From everything I’ve heard Jimmy Wilson is having himself a fantastic rookie camp. Not only does he project to be a fine strong safety, but his physical nature and hard hitting style will find him a home on special teams. Unless the Dolphins keep five safeties, Tyrone Culver appears to be on the outside looking in.
Special Teams: Dan Carpenter, Brandon Fields, John Denney