Monday, January 12, 2009

Dolphins Re-Sign Seven Practice Squad Players for 2009

With their 2008 season coming to an end last weekend against the Baltimore Ravens, the Miami Dolphins have begun to shape their 2009 roster by re-signing seven players that finished the year on the team's practice squad.

Re-signed were wide receiver Anthony Armstrong, cornerback Scorpio Babers, cornerback Will Billingsley, fullback Chris Brown, defensive tackle Joe Cohen, running back Lex Hilliard and wide receiver Todd Lowber. All seven received two-year contracts with base salaries of $310,000 (2009) and $395,000 (2010).

Here is some brief background info on each player as well as my thoughts on their chances of making the roster:

WR Anthony Armstrong

A West Texas A&M alum, Armstrong (5-11, 175) played for the Odessa Roughnecks of the Intense Football League before playing two seasons with the Dallas Desperados of the Arena Football League. He signed with the Dolphins during camp on July 26 and spent the entire 2008 season on the practice squad.

2009 Outlook

Armstrong will likely be competing for a fifth and final spot in the Dolphins' receiving corps in 2009. Guys like Ginn, Bess, London and Camarillo (if healthy) will all be ahead of him, not to mention any other players added this offseason through free agency and the draft. Armstrong has his hands full and could be destined for another year on the practice squad unless another team picks him up.

CB Scorpio Babers

Signed by the Dolphins as an undrafted free agent out of Sam Houston State in 2008, Babers was cut during camp and finished the preseason with the Green Bay Packers. He was out of football until being re-signed to the Dolphins' practice squad on Dec. 24.

2009 Outlook

At most Babers will compete to be Miami's fifth cornerback. However, he has a huge uphill battle and will surely have more people in front of him after free agency and the draft. He's a very long shot to make the team and may not even make it to camp.

CB Will Billingsley

Billingsley spent the entire 2007 season unsigned after going undrafted out of North Carolina A&T before being signed by Miami in April 2008. He failed to make the team out of training camp and was on and off the practice squad throughout the season.

2009 Outlook

Billingsley has better physical tools than Babers and is clearly favored by the team, as he stuck around much longer and more often. However, he's very raw and is a long shot to make an active roster at this point. He'll have to compete with any free agents, drafted rookies and undrafted free agents for a final corner spot.

FB Chris Brown

A tight end at Tennessee, Brown went to camp with the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2008 and also spent time on their practice squad. He was signed to the Dolphins' practice squad on Dec. 10 when running back Jalen Parmele was signed by the Baltimore Ravens.

2009 Outlook

Brown certainly doesn't have the size (6-0, 240) Miami likes in their tight ends, so he'll definitely be trying to make the roster as a fullback. Lousaka Polite was solid in the second half of the season after Boomer Grigsby and Casey Cramer didn't pan out, but by no means does Polite have the position locked down. Brown will have a chance to compete, but as of now he has to be considered an underdog.

DT Joe Cohen

A fourth-round pick out of Florida in 2007, Cohen spent all of his rookie season on injured reserve with a knee injury. He was released by the 49ers following the 2008 preseason and remained a free agent until being singed to Miami's practice squad on Nov. 20.

2009 Outlook

I actually feel like Cohen has one of the better shots to make the team of the seven players discussed here. Jason Ferguson is getting up there in years, Paul Soliai has potential but can't get out of the team's doghouse and Randy Starks is better suited at end in the 3-4. The team is sure to add one or two guys in competition, but Cohen will have a chance to land a backup job.

RB Lex Hilliard

One of Miami's three sixth-round picks in 2008, Hilliard spent his entire rookie season on the practice squad. The 5-11, 230-pound Montana alum could potentially be moved to fullback, but hasn't shown much yet at either position.

2009 Outlook

Jalen Parmele was clearly the more talented of the Dolphins' two drafted backs, which is why he was signed away by Baltimore and Hilliard went untouched all season. With Brown, Williams and Cobbs all likely to return in 2009 and Polite and Chris Brown probably ahead of him at fullback, I don't see Hilliard making the Dolphins' active roster in 2009. A fresh face from the draft or undrafted free agency could even push him out of the mix for the practice squad in 2009.

WR Todd Lowber

A tremendous athlete with no organized football experience before 2007, Lowber has bounced around between four NFL teams and a CFL franchise. He was originally signed by the Vikings in 2007, spent time on the Giants' practice squad during the '07 season, then went to camp with Dallas in 2008 after a brief stint on the practice squad of the Toronto Argonauts. He was signed to Miami's practice squad on Nov. 10.

2009 Outlook

Lowber's got the physical tools at 6-3, 205 and speed timed in the 4.2s, but he's still very raw and hasn't been able to crack an active roster yet. He's an intriguing prospect but has to be considered a long shot to make the roster, probably even more so than Armstrong. There will be a lot of bodies ahead of him on the depth chart in camp (if he makes it there) so he'll have to really impress to make the cut.

Update on Heerspink

The only practice squad player yet to be re-signed is offensive tackle Daren Heerspink. Undrafted out of Portland State in 2008, Heerspink failed to make the team out of the preseason and was out of football until being re-signed to the practice squad on Dec. 11.

While the the other seven were re-signed on Jan. 5, Heerspink's practice squad contract did not expire until Jan. 12. I'm not sure why that is, but that being the case it seems Heerspink was not left out and being re-signed is still possible.