Friday, August 27, 2010

53-man Roster Prediction: Preseason Midpoint Edition

The first wave of cuts (from 80 to 75) is only five days away on Aug. 31, and teams will have to trim all the way down to their final 53 on by Sept. 4.

The Miami Dolphins don't need to make any roster moves until the latter date with just 75 players currently on their active roster, but they do have a long way to go until they get down to 53.

Halfway through the Dolphins' four-game preseason schedule, I felt now would be a good time to take yet another look at the latest projections for the 53-man roster.

For comparison, you can check out my previous predictions from Aug. 13 (before preseason), July 31 (before training camp) and April 29 (post-draft).

*Starters in italics

Quarterbacks (3): Chad Henne, Chad Pennington, Tyler Thigpen
Released: Pat White

There had been some speculation that Thigpen was possibly being showcased as trade bait in the preseason, but it seems like the Dolphins will roll with him as a backup in 2010 given their lack of interest in getting White playing time.

Thigpen will be a restricted free agent in 2011, so he can be re-signed and dangled as trade bait again next year if they wanted.

After entering the game only to kneel the ball in the preseason opener, White failed to make an appearance in Game 2 against Jacksonville. There is no question White is the Dolphins' quarterback most in need of experience and work, yet he is getting none. The only possible reason? Miami has given up on him.

Running backs (4): Ronnie Brown, Ricky Williams, Patrick Cobbs, Lex Hilliard
Released: none

There were never any real uncertainties here, and the release of kick returner Tristan Davis left the Dolphins with only the four running backs that were always going to make the team.

I would say that Hilliard isn't a lock to make the team given how much he's buried on the depth chart when everyone else is healthy, but I'm sure he will given the expiring contracts of Brown and Williams though.

Fullbacks (1): Lousaka Polite
Released: Rolly Lumbala

Lumbala has never really had a realistic shot to make the roster, and he still doesn't. He hasn't stood out on special teams, can contribute on offense, and the Dolphins usually only keep on fullback anyway.

Wide receivers (4): Brandon Marshall, Brian Hartline, Davone Bess, Patrick Turner
Released: Marlon Moore, Julius Pruitt, Roberto Wallace

The trade of Greg Camarillo really opened things up at the bottom of the depth chart here and it likely ensures at least one of the players competing for a roster spot will make the team.

The best bet of the bunch of 2009-third-rounder Turner, who had a solid preseason opener and has more upside than the rest. Turner may not be ready to contribute, but he absolutely wins this job if the competition is close.

A lot of people like Moore a lot, and I see why. Still, he hasn't shined to the point where he couldn't be slipped to the practice squad. He has some potential, but his development is going to be a long process.

The Dolphins might nee to keep an extra player at another position (such as cornerback) and thus might keep only four receivers. If that happens, Turner probably makes it while two of Moore/Pruitt/Wallace end up on the practice squad to open the season.

Tight ends (3): Anthony Fasano, David Martin, Joey Haynos
Released: John Nalbone

Everything changed when Martin was re-signed, as the veteran looks entrenched in the No. 2 spot just as he was in 2008 despite not playing football last season.

The signing also meant that the team's three young tight ends were competing not for two spots, but for one. The herd was thinned a bit earlier this week with the release of Kory Sperry, who is now with the Broncos.

That leaves Haynos and Nalbone competing for one spot as the No. 3 tight end, although it really isn't much of a competition. Despite not showing much development beyond a backup in two seasons, Haynos has consistently been running with the second team this preseason.

Meanwhile, Nalbone has done absolutely nothing since being drafted in the fifth round this season and appears destined for the practice squad yet again, if anything.

Offensive tackles (4): Jake Long, Vernon Carey, Nate Garner, Lydon Murtha
Released: Andrew Gardner

The timetable for Garner's return from a foot injury is uncertain, but the Dolphins will likely keep him active because he's simply too valuable to have off the bench if he can be healthy at some point this season.

Murtha had a very rocky performance against Jacksonville last weekend, but he has more versatility at both tackle spots and upside than Gardner. He's also been working more on the blind side, which is important.

Offensive guards (3): Richie Incognito, John Jerry, Cory Procter
Released: Ray Feinga, Donald Thomas

A lot of people have been fans of Thomas ever since he came out of nowhere to win the starting right guard job as a rookie sixth-round pick in 2008, but the reality is he hasn't done anything as a pro except for get hurt and get benched.

Thomas has consistently been working with the third team in the preseason, and it absolutely would not surprise me to see him cut or traded before the regular season. He may not have a spot in Miami, but he does possess the upside to garner a mid-to-late rounder in trade.

I think four tackles will be kept over four guards because of the versatility center Joe Berger and tackle Nate Garner provide at the guard spot. There simply isn't the need for four pure guards when you have guys that can play the position in addition to other ones.

Centers (2): Jake Grove, Joe Berger
Released: Andrew Hartline

It was just last week reports emerged that Berger had won the job, but Grove got more series with the first team against Jacksonville. Sparano can say Grove's contract won't factor in, but I have to believe it will and that if it's close, he'll win the job.

A college tackle, Hartline has worked primarily inside for the Dolphins but has actually been practicing outside some lately. The guy is blocked at center and probably doesn't have a spot on the roster regardless of where he lines up, although he should garner practice squad consideration.

Defensive ends (5): Kendall Langford, Jared Odrick, Charles Grant, Marques Douglas, Ryan Baker
Released: Lionel Dotson, Tony McDaniel
Reserve/Non-Football Injury: Phillip Merling

Veteran pickups don't always make the roster, but both Grant and Douglas have earned their spot and appear to be quality guys to fit into the rotation. Grant's pass-rushing skills have flashed in the preseason, and Douglas is just a solid all-around 3-4 end.

The battle for the potential No. 5 defensive end spot is an intriguing one, but I like what some would consider the dark horse in Baker. He's worked a ton at both end and nose tackle, and the Dolphins are all about position versatility.

A lot of people like Dotson, but the guy just hasn't produced anything in two seasons and it's time to end the experiment at this point. He's been given every chance to at least crack the rotation at end, but he has yet to do so.

Merling's torn Achilles' likely puts him out for the season, and the Dolphins have little use for him anyway and might actually be deeper at end than they were with Merling as the No. 3 the past few seasons. He might very well have played his last snap as a Dolphin.

Nose tackles (2): Randy Starks, Paul Soliai
Released: Montavious Stanley

Soliai has never quite lived up to his potential, but he's had a stellar preseason thus far and seems perfectly capable of handling the No. 2 job. He really hasn't had much competition anyway, so it seems the Dolphins are quite content with him around.

The Dolphins rarely keep three pure nose tackles since just one starts, and Stanley hasn't done anything to earn a roster spot. It just makes more sense to keep someone like Ryan Baker, who can back up defensive end and play nose in a pinch.

Outside linebackers (5): Cameron Wake, Koa Misi, Charlie Anderson, Ikaika Alama-Francis, Erik Walden
Released: Chris McCoy, Quentin Moses

Alama-Francis still has a long way to go in his conversion from defensive lineman to linebacker, and he's struggling chasing down backs from the stand up position thus far. Still, he has upside and is good on special teams, so his roster spot should be safe.

I don't think I've had Walden making the roster at all before this, but he seems like the most logical choice given that neither Moses nor McCoy has shown much of anything and Walden is the best one on special teams. The No. 5 outside linebacker will be limited to a special teams role anyway, so Walden makes the most sense.

Moses, on the other hand, hasn't shown much of anything since he entered the NFL, and it's about him the Dolphins moved on. McCoy, meanwhile, seems like a good practice squad candidate.

Inside linebackers (4): Karlos Dansby, Channing Crowder, Tim Dobbins, J. D. Folsom
Released: Micah Johnson, Austin Spitler

There's an intriguing three-way battle for the No. 4 inside linebacker job (if the team does indeed keep that many) and each player has made their own case for the job.

Spitler stock is probably the lowest at the moment because he missed a lot of camp with salmonella. Johnson has racked up tackles but has limited mobility, while Folsom has also played solid defense and is the best of the three on special teams.

It's his special teams work that I believe will win Folsom the job, even if he doesn't offer much upside on defense. His competition has done little to unseat the 2009 seventh-round pick, and the fourth inside linebacker doesn't play defense anyway.

Expect one of the losing players on the practice squad, with Spitler being the favorite for that spot over Johnson as an in-house draft pick.

Cornerbacks (6): Vontae Davis, Sean Smith, Will Allen, Benny Sapp, Jason Allen, Nolan Carroll
Released: Kevin Hobbs, Nate Ness, Ross Weaver

The Dolphins typically keep only four or five receivers, but things are a bit more crowded now due to Will Allen's knee issues and Sapp's acquisition. Sapp is nothing special, but you have to figure he'll make the team so the Dolphins didn't just give Greg Camarillo away.

You also can't cut Jason Allen or Carroll, because both will have significant roles on special teams. Allen is a superb player on coverage and might just be the team's special teams ace, while Carroll appears close to nailing down the kickoff return gig.

A lot of people are high on Nate Ness after his stellar performance in the preseason opener, but Sapp's acquisition shows the team wasn't content with its corner depth, and there is simply no room for him here.

Safeties (4): Chris Clemons, Yeremiah Bell, Reshad Jones, Tyrone Culver
Released: Jonathon Amaya

It's a risky move handing an unproven Clemons the starting free safety gig, but the team didn't bring in any competition other than the fifth-rounder Jones and he isn't ready for such a big role yet.

An undrafted rookie, Amaya has had a solid preseason and is the kind of guy you worry about waiving even if you have no room for him. Culver's experience on defense and ability on special teams will probably keep him around, but you really don't want to lose some with Amaya's upside.

Special teams (3): Dan Carpenter, Brandon Fields, John Denney
Released: none

The Dolphins brought in no competition at placekicker, punter, and long snapper, and gave all three of their players at those positions contract extensions this offseason. It's a well-oiled machine that runs very smoothly.

Practice Squad

The Dolphins will likely get a few of their practice squad players from other teams' cuts, but if I were to make an eight-man practice squad from the Dolphins' cuts above, this is how it would look:
  • WR Marlon Moore — The most impressive of the Dolphins young undrafted receivers and worth developing.
  • WR Julius Pruitt — With just four receivers on the active roster, it would practically be a lock that they keep two on the practice squad.
  • TE John Nalbone — Hasn't shown anything since being drafted in the fifth round last year, but he may still end up on the practice squad.
  • C Andrew Hartline — One of the only offensive line cuts still eligible for the practice squad and a good guy to have in practice due to his experience at all the positions.
  • OLB Chris McCoy — The only outside linebacker cut eligible for the practice squad and a rookie draft pick that gets developed.
  • ILB Austin Spitler — Spitler is more of a complete player than Micah Johnson and was drafted by the Dolphins, so he gets the nod.
  • CB Nate Ness — A strong preseason showing won't land him a spot on the active roster, but he'd be nice to have on the practice squad if he clears waivers.
  • SS Jonathon Amaya — Amaya has quite a bit of talent for an undrafted player and has good upside. If he doesn't get picked up elsewhere, he'd be great to have here.

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