Monday, September 7, 2009

Dolphins' Initial Practice Squad Features Some New Faces

The Miami Dolphins have constructed their first practice squad of the 2009 season, and as expected it primarily consists of players let go by the team during final cuts.

Re-joining the practice squad after clearing waivers are: defensive end Ryan Baker, cornerback Will Billingsley, linebacker J. D. Folsom, offensive tackle Nate Garner, guard Mark Lewis and wide receiver James Robinson. All but Billingsley and Garner are true rookies, and Folsom is the Dolphins' lone 2009 draft pick that did not make the Dolphins' initial 53-man roster.

Joining those six will be two newcomers: rookie wide receiver Julius Pruitt and second-year linebacker Danny Lansanah. Pruitt is undrafted out of Ouachita Baptist, while Lansanah was undrafted out of UConn in 2008 and spent his rookie season with the Green Bay Packers.

Before a little analysis on each one, a quick refresher on the workings of the practice squad:
  • Teams may form eight-man practice squads after final cuts are completed. Practice squads last through the regular season and post-season.
  • All practice squad players have one-year contracts, usually worth around $80,000 for the season, and become free agents once the season is over.
  • Practice squad players practice with the team and do everything active roster players do, except play on game days. They usually do not travel with the team on the road, unless the team foresees a need to activate one for the next game.
  • Practice squad players can be signed by other NFL teams, so long as the signing team adds the player to their active roster and keeps him there at least three weeks.
Now, on to the players:

Ryan Baker

Baker was undrafted out of Purdue in 2009 and waived by the Dolphins during final cuts. He'll serve as the team's sixth defensive end behind the five on the active roster. An injury could get him promoted, but depending on the severity as well as Baker's progression, a free agent veteran could be first.

Will Billingsley

Billingsley was undrafted and unsigned in 2007 before joining the Dolphins in 2008. He spent most of last season on the team's practice squad. He's on the practice squad because he knows the system and can serve as a sixth corner in practice, though I don't expect much from him as far as development goes.

J. D. Folsom

The Dolphins' seventh-round pick in 2009, Folsom could have made the team had the Dolphins opted to keep four inside linebackers and five outside linebackers instead of three inside and six outside. He's a candidate to be brought up sometime during the season for special teams purposes, though Danny Lansanah will provide competition there.

Nate Garner

Garner has essentially the team made before the Dolphins feared they couldn't sneak tight end John Nalbone to the practice squad, which resulted in Garner's release and four tight ends kept on the active roster. With only eight offensive linemen on the active roster, Garner's a strong candidate to be brought back up before long.

Danny Lansanah

Lansanah (6-1, 248) earned first-team All-Big East honors as a senior at UConn in 2007, but went undrafted in the 2008 NFL Draft. He signed with the Green Bay Packers and began the season on their practice squad before being promoted to the active roster five weeks into the season. He appeared in five games for the Packers as a rookie, recording two tackles on special teams.

Lansanah appeared in all four games for the Packers in the 2009 preseason and finished second on the team with 18 tackles. Despite his performance, Lansanah was caught up in a numbers game in Green Bay and was waived during final cuts.

Despite an offer to return to the Packers' practice squad, Lansanah opted to join Miami's instead. According to former Dolphins and current Packers beat writer Greg A. Bedard, Miami came after Lansanah last season and prompted the Packers to promote Lansanah to the active roster.

Lansanah will wear No. 58 in Miami, which was worn by linebacker William Kershaw from last season to this year's final cuts. Lansanah currently is the fifth inside linebacker for the Dolphins and second on the practice squad, though with his experience he could beat Folsom for a promotion as a special teamer this season.

Mark Lewis

Lewis was undrafted out of Oregon in 2009 and signed with the Dolphins as a free agent. He drew occasional praise from the beat writers in camp but never really stood out in the team's preseason games.

The Dolphins have only eight offensive linemen on the active roster, but I suspect Lewis isn't ready to contribute and I imagine the team would look elsewhere for an injury replacement.

Julius Pruitt

Undrafted out of Ouachita Baptist (the Ouachita Baptist?!) in 2009, Pruitt failed to sign with a team during the offseason and preseason and was never under contract with a pro team before joining the Dolphins' practice squad yesterday. He reportedly drew the interest of some teams prior to the draft and worked out for the Dolphins before they signed James Robinson in August.

Pruitt spent his first two years at Ouachita Baptist as a backup receiver, totaling 43 receptions, 567 yards and five touchdowns through his freshman and sophomore seasons.

Pruitt stepped into the starting role in 2007, earning second-team All-Gulf South honors with 51 catches for 723 yards and seven scores. He capped off his collegiate career with first-team all-conference honors in 2008 after catching 77 passes for 1,116 yards and 11 touchdowns.

A two-time All-Gulf South selection, Pruitt left Ouachita Baptist having caught 171 passes for 2,406 yards and 23 touchdowns.

Pruitt has a good blend of size (6-2, 210) and speed (4.4 forty time), but he comes from a very small school where the level of competition is nothing like what he'll experience at the pro level. He's very raw and is a project for the Dolphins, so don't expect contributions any time soon.

Pruitt will wear No. 11 for the Dolphins, which had been worn over the past year by wide receiver Anthony Armstrong, who was released Aug. 29.

James Robinson

A well-traveled receiver who has played in af2, the Arena Football League and the Canadian Football League, Robinson was let go by the CFL's Toronto Argonauts in August, but was able to earn a contract with the Dolphins after a sub-4.3 forty time in workouts.

Robinson caught one pass for eight yards in the preseason, but never really had a chance to make the team and was waived during final cuts. He joins Julius Pruitt as one of two receivers on the practice squad, making them the sixth and seventh receivers in the organization after the five active players.

Like Pruitt, Robinson is raw as well, but he has much more pro experience at various levels and thus has to be considered far more likely to be promoted to the active roster. Still, it's unknown at this point how ready Robinson is to contribute, so he may not be first in line should the team need to add a receiver due to injury.