Monday, August 18, 2008

Veteran offensive lineman Steve McKinney released

In a somewhat surprising move, the Dolphins have parted ways with veteran offensive lineman Steve McKinney. The team signed had signed the 32-year-old McKinney in May.

I call the move somewhat surprising because McKinney was signed to provide some veteran depth in the interior line and potentially compete for the open starting guard spot. That being said, the move is not entirely surprising because rookie Donald Thomas has seemingly locked up that starting gig and McKinney is still recovering from the torn ACL that caused him to miss last season in Houston.

It's hard to determine whether or not this is more the result of McKinney's health or the team's confidence in it's younger backups. With the five starters apparently set, there are seven players competing for four (or possibly five, but I doubt it) backup spots.

Trey Darilek is the closest thing to a lock in my view because of his experience and versatility. He can literally play anywhere along the line, which is an extremely valuable thing because it saves teams a roster spot (or two) to use elsewhere. He also has experience with the staff from his time in Dallas during the 2007 preseason.

Rookie Shawn Murphy is close to a lock simply by being a fourth-round selection. That being said, he hasn't really shown much in camp and it's not out of the question that he could be cut. Even some third-rounders have been cut in recent years, including a current Dolphin in Quentin Moses.

I believe Cam Cameron holdover Ike Ndukwe makes the team because of his ability to play guard and tackle and the team's complete lack of other tackles on the roster. Ndukwe is a big-bodied prospect who has bounced around the league for a few years.

If we assume those three make the squad, you have undrafted rookies Mike Byrne (Delaware), Matt Spanos (Southern Cal) and Daren Heerspink (Portland State) likely competing for one final spot on the roster. I believe Byrne is the best shot of that group, as I've seen him play the most in the preseason and I know he's had plenty of time with the second team. He also has some versatility under his belt, with college experience at tackle and plenty of offseason and camp experience at the interior line spots.

However, it's important to remember that even if a guy like Byrne or Heerspink initially survives the final cuts, they are by no means safe in the long run. The ninth and likely final offensive lineman to make the roster will be a strong candidate to be cut in the event another player is claimed off waivers from another team. In fact, I'd be very surprised if we see no changes at the bottom spots of the line between final cuts and the regular season opener.