Friday, August 13, 2010

Preseason 53-man roster prediction

The Miami Dolphins will open their 2010 preseason tomorrow night against Tampa Bay, and they will use that time to evaluate players on the roster bubble.

Quite a few things have changed in the two weeks since training camp began, including season-ending injuries and nagging ones, signings and releases.

That means my predictions for the Dolphins' 53-man roster have potentially changed as well since I first posted them two weeks ago.

With the preseason getting underway, I thought now would be a good time to post an updated outlook on how the 53-man roster is shaping up.

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

It's not often you see team let go of second-round picks after just one season, but if any such player deserves it, it's White.

White is having another poor training camp and every passing day solidifies my believe that he is simply not an NFL quarterback.

The only thing that will save White's sophomore season in Miami, in my opinion, is a preseason trade of Thigpen or Pennington. I don't expect that, however, as Thigpen has long-term value as a backup and Pennington is a great mentor for Henne.

Running backs (4): Ronnie Brown (starter), Ricky Williams, Patrick Cobbs, Lex Hilliard
Released: Tristan Davis

Hilliard once again makes the team due to his special teams prowess, but he'll be relegated to the fourth-string running back job with the return of Cobbs. Fans have been high on Hilliard at times, but there simply isn't much ceiling there and he could be gone at any time.

While Davis has reportedly shown some things as a kickoff returner, it's extremely hard for him to make the roster solely as a special teams player. He's not going to contribute on offense as a fourth or fifth running back, meaning Miami would be using up a roster spot just for his returning.

Fullbacks (1): Lousaka Polite (starter)
Released: Rolly Lumbala

Lumbala is purely a special teams prospect, and his chances of making the roster aren't good as the team likes to only keep on fullback. He does have an outside shot along with some other guys, as I will explain later in the article.

Wide receivers (5): Brandon Marshall (starter), Brian Hartline (starter), Greg Camarillo, Davone Bess, Patrick Turner
Released: Ryan Grice-Mullen, Marlon Moore, Julius Pruitt, Roberto Wallace

Moore, Pruitt, and Wallace have all garnered praise from training camp onlookers at various times over the past few weeks, but I'm not sure any has impressed enough to force the Dolphins to ditch their disappointing 2009 third-round pick in Turner.

The Dolphins often keep five receivers active and one or two on the practice squad, so I expect at least one player, if not two, from the cut list to end up on the developmental squad.

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

The return of veteran David Martin shakes things up a bit, and if his conditioning and health are good enough, he should be able to resume his role as the No. 2 tight end.

That leaves one potential roster spot for a third tight end, although there is no guarantee the Dolphins keep that many. The edge would have to go to Haynos though, as he has most experience of the three candidates and possesses the most intriguing skill set.

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

Murtha and Gardner are a toss up at this point, and there is really no way to tell if either will make the roster. I like Gardner as the in-house draft pick and the guy who has worked more as Jake Long's backup than anyone else.

The one player that will have a great influence on what backups are kept is Garner. He's a versatile guy and is probably a lock if healthy, but he recently suffered a leg injury that had him on crutches after Wednesday's practice.

If Garner sticks around, only one of Gardner and Murtha will stay - and possibly neither. If he's gone, at least one makes the team, with the other competing for a final roster spot with some of the backup guards.

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

A lot of fans are still high on Thomas, but there really isn't much justification for that at this point. He's not a legitimate candidate to start with the talent Miami brought in this offseason, and he arguably isn't even better than Procter as a backup.

In my view, Thomas is competing for one roster spot with Gardner and Murtha. The team will keep four guards or four tackles, but not four of each.

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

Center is one of the Dolphins' deepest positions, with starting-caliber talent two deep. Berger is a lock to make the team even if he doesn't start given how he played in 2009.

Hartline, who has gotten some recent praise from Sparano and some extended looks against better competition in camp, simply has too much talent in front of him on the depth chart to garner anything more than practice squad consideration.

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

Odrick was expected to at least half a so-called competition on his hands, but Merling's season-ending injury changed that.

Grant has drawn rave reviews in recent practices and appears to be transitioning well to the 3-4 defensive end role, so I expect both him and Grant should have no problem making the team as rotational players.

Baker gets the nod over McDaniel in part because McDaniel has been a disappointment since arriving in Miami last year, and in part because Baker offers more versatility as a nose tackle.

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

Soliai has never developed into quite the player his physical tools would indicate he should, but he is undoubtedly a capable and experience backup nose tackle. I simply don't see a journeyman like Stanley and a very raw rookie in Ivey knocking Soliai off the roster.

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

The Dolphins' starting outside linebackers appear to be set, and the most experience of the bunch—six-year veteran Charlie Anderson—is not one of them. Anderson is a solid reserve, but he doesn't possess the upside of Wake or Misi and shouldn't start if the younger guys are ready.

A converted defensive tackle and end, Ikaika Alama-Francis has had the Dolphins media in a frenzy about his potential. It's hard to know just how much potential there actually is there, although he does have the skill set to be a Matt Roth-type of run stuffer at linebacker.

The final reserve is a bit hard to place here, although Erik Walden has done nothing on defense and Quentin Moses has been unimpressive as well. I see no reason not to let McCoy show what he can do as long as he can play special teams well enough as a rookie.

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

The loss of fourth-round rookie A. J. Edds (torn ACL) potentially opens a door for Folsom or Spitler to grab a fourth inside linebacker spot. However, as essentially a pure special-teams player, there is no guarantee the roster spot will be devoted to a fourth inside linebacker at all.

Folsom hasn't flashed much since he was drafted last year, but Spitler has hurt himself by being sick since camp began. I like Spitler's potential a bit more, but neither guy has seized the spot by any means.

I don't consider Johnson a legitimate contender for a spot right now, as he's just too stiff, nonathletic, and without range to contribute much. He's a hard hitter, but he's not a complete package.

Cornerbacks (5): Vontae Davis (starter), Sean Smith (starter), Will Allen, Jason Allen, Nolan Carroll
Released: Kevin Hobbs, Nate Ness, Ross Weaver

I consider Jason Allen and Carroll locks to make the roster, as Allen is the team's best special-teams player (excluding kickers and punters) and Carroll has had a very strong camp as a mid-round rookie.

Another spot should go to Will Allen, although his recent trouble coming back from knee surgey probably has the team concerned. There is no temporary injured list for him to go out (i.e. PUP) so he's either active or on I.R. and out for the season.

If the worst-case scenario plays out and Allen can't go this season, it could potentially open a roster spot for someone like Hobbs or Ness. I don't think an undrafted player with no NFL experience like Weaver has a chance to be that guy.

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

There isn't much to wonder about here, as both the starters and second-teamers at both safety positions are pretty much set.

Amaya has some potential but there is no room for him on the active roster unless the team keeps five safeties and he can separate himself on special teams. He is a strong candidate for the practice squad.

Special Teams (3): Dan Carpenter (placekicker), Brandon Fields (punter), John Denney (long snapper)
Released: none

Mystery special teamer

The Dolphins typically keep a certain number of players at each position (i.e. three tight ends, four inside linebackers, five cornerbacks, etc.) but the guys at the bottom of such positions essentially play only special teams.

That being the case, the Dolphins can afford to take a pure special-teams guy from any position, giving them more than they might usually keep at one position and less at another.

If Rolly Lumbala shines on special teams, he could be kept over a fourth inside linebacker or third tight end. Same goes for Sperry or Nalbone at tight end, Folsom and Spitler at inside linebacker, Moses and Walden at outside linebacker, Amaya at safety, and so on.

I typically keep my predictions in line with the usual number of players the Dolphins keep at another position, but there is no reason someone like Lumbala couldn't make the team, despite never playing offense, if he's better than Folsom and Spitler on special teams since those guys wouldn't play defense anyway.

You also can't rule out such a spot going to a returner, if someone like Tristan Davis was simply too good to ignore on kickoffs. However, I think return specialists have a particularly hard time making the Dolphins in general, as there is no reason to use a roster spot on a player when there is someone on offense (like Cobbs or Bess) that can do it too.

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 — Has had a great camp, and with five receivers on the active roster, the Dolphins usually keep one or two more around for practice purposes.
  • WR Roberto Wallace — He's competing with Pruitt and Grice-Mullen for this spot, but Pruitt has had longer to show something and hasn't.
  • TE Kory Sperry — The team will probably keep a fourth tight end around for practice, and Sperry has better stock with the team than Nalbone.
  • C Andrew Hartline — A prospect Sparano likes and can work at center and guard.
  • NT Travis Ivey — Stanley isn't practice squad eligible, so Ivey is the lone guy to keep around.
  • LB J. D. Folsom — He's a special-teams guy that could trade spots with Spitler if needed.
  • CB Nate Ness — Experienced at corner and safety, so a valuable practice body.
  • SS Jonathon Amaya — A lot of potential for an undrafted free agent, so worth keeping around to develop.

As always, you can check out the updated projected depth chart here.

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