Wednesday, September 10, 2008

G Thomas placed on IR; FB Grigsby waived; FB Cramer and OL Mathis signed

Just one week into the regular season, the Dolphins have lost their first significant player of the year in rookie guard Donald Thomas. The 2008 sixth-rounder was placed on injured reserve with an ankle injury suffered against the Jets. Meanwhile, the Dolphins added former Panthers guard Evan Mathis to replace him and swapped Boomer Grigsby for Casey Cramer at fullback.

In order to keep things organized, I'm going to separate this article into a Thomas/Mathis section and a Grigsby/Cramer section. I think it epic, life-changing organization.

Thomas/Mathis

One of the best stories coming out of camp, the raw but talented Donald Thomas ran away with the team's right guard job despite being a sixth-round pick. He took over the job early in camp and never looked back, while rookie fourth-rounder Shawn Murphy was on the roster bubble all the way through the preseason.

Thomas suffered an ankle injury early in the team's Week 1 contest against the New York Jets but was able to play through the pain. Though he was on crutches and wearing a protective boot Monday, Thomas said it was just precautionary and expressed optimism not only about playing in Week 2 but practicing by Wednesday. However, a Scout.com report late Monday night reported that Thomas could be lost for the season and that proved accurate the following day when he was officially placed on injured reserve.

I spoke to Donald and while he was understandably disappointed, he expressed confidence he'd be back next year healthy and competing. Unfortunately, he was unable to elaborate on why he seemed so optimistic about the injury just a day before it ended his season; it certainly was an interesting series of events. Thomas has a bright future ahead of him and it's disappointing to see him suffer such a setback this early in his career.

This is an unfortunate blow to a Dolphins offensive line that is sorely lacking depth. Ike Ndukwe will reportedly step in at right guard, though I suspect this might not last. Ndukwe has been serving as the backup left tackle (though he actually could back up every position) and I don't really consider him starter material. I wouldn't be surprised to see rookie fourth-rounder Shawn Murphy, recent waiver claim Andy Alleman or the newly signed Evan Mathis - all of whom have more upside than Ndukwe - eventually push for the job. Mathis, in particular, is intriguing and is the most likely given that Murphy is backing up left guard and Alleman center.

Just who is Evan Mathis? The 6-foot-5, 305-pound Mathis was originally drafted by the Carolina Panthers in third round of the 2005 NFL Draft out of Alabama. A first-team All-SEC selection in 2004, the 26-year-old Mathis appeared in nine games his rookie season with no starts. He started all 15 games in which he played for Carolina in 2006, but appeared in just one game last season. Mathis was released by the team during final cuts two weeks ago.

Mathis also has more connections to the Dolphins' organization than Henry VIII had wives! (Little historical humor for ya there. That's how we do it here: combine football with education.) First, Mathis is the nephew of former Dolphins tackle Bob Baumhower, who was selected to five Pro Bowls for the team between 1977 and 1986. Mathis worked also with both Dolphins offensive coordinator Dan Henning and offensive line coach Mike Maser in Carolina. Additionally, he played with starting left guard Justin Smiley when both were at Alabama from 2001-2003.

Mathis will wear No. 73 in Miami, which was most recently worn by undrafted rookie offensive tackle Dan Gore in training camp.


Grigsby/Cramer

Some fans were surprised when Boomer Grigsby beat out Reagan Mauia for the team's starting fullback job during the preseason. While I predicted before camp that Mauia would win the job, it became obvious early on that Grigsby was far out-performing the incumbent. Grigsby did just about everything better during the preseason, and the team made the right choice in choosing him over Mauia.

Despite beating out the only other fullback on the Dolphins roster during the preseason, Grigsby's grasp on the starting gig was apparently not safe at all. Just one game into the regular season, the Dolphins have parted ways with the converted Kansas City linebacker in favor of Casey Cramer.

The move comes two days after Dolphins running backs Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown combined for 47 yards on 16 carries in the season opener. The biggest hole in Grigsby's game always had been his blocking, as he was a solid pass catcher and is a terrific special teams player.

The 6-foot-2, 250-pound Cramer was a good receiving tight end at Dartmouth, hauling in 72 passes for 1,017 yards and seven touchdowns as a junior in 2002. However, he has just two receptions for eight yards in 27 career NFL games. He was drafted by the Buccaneers in 2004 but did not make the team. After bouncing around some practice squads, he saw active roter time with the Carolina Panthers in 2004-2005 and then the Tennessee Titans in 2006-2007. He was released by the Titans on August 30 during final cuts.

What's the scouting report on Cramer? Well, his totally unbiased agent had this to say:
"He's a Dartmouth graduate, very intelligent, and will have the playbook down pat by Sunday morning. He's tough, smart, a good pass-catcher, a good blocker and excellent special teams player.''
Fantastic.

Despite the agent's expected confidence, Cramer's status on the team is no safer than Grigsby's and he's just the latest guy being given a chance to earn the fullback job long-term. He has experience at both fullback and tight end, though he will definitely be working at fullback as that's where the hole is on the team. He's also a given to play on special teams in the same capacity as Grigsby. Hopefully, Cramer will nail down the fullback job and improve the running game. It is by no means a given, however, as Cramer has never had a starting gig in four career years. There could easily be a revolving door at fullback this season.

Cramer will make his Dolphins debut against the Arizona Cardinals this Sunday sporting No. 30, which was most recently worn by cornerback Chris Roberson during the preseason.