Monday, August 1, 2011

Shaun O'Hara, Ray Willis to visit Dolphins; minor roster moves

Clearly not content with their starting offensive line, the Miami Dolphins reportedly visited with veterans Ray Willis on Sunday and Shaun O'Hara on Monday.

The 34-year-old O'Hara has played 11 pro seasons with the Browns and Giants. He saw action at both guard and center in Cleveland, while spending nearly all of the last seven years starting at center in New York.

A Pro Bowl selection each of the past three seasons and the starting center for the Giants' Super Bowl-winning team in 2008, O'Hara was released on July 28 for salary cap reasons.

Meanwhile, the 28-year-old Willis is a Florida State alum with a desire to play closer to home after spending the past six seasons with the Seattle Seahawks. He he has started 26 of 44 games played at guard and tackle, including all but six between the 2008 and 2009 seasons. However, a knee injury kept him out all of last season.

In Miami, O'Hara would likely spell the end of Joe Berger's roster spot and would give the Dolphins insurance in case rookie first-round center Mike Pouncey were to be injured or slow in his development.

It's also a strong possibility the team could move Pouncey to right guard, where Ray Feinga is currently penciled in as starter and 2010 third-rounder John Jerry continues to be a major disappointment in jeopardy being cut.

I personally don't like the idea of moving Pouncey around too much, and believe it's best for his development if he stays in one spot and continues to learn and gain experience there. However, it's still fairly early in camp and there is no doubt the Dolphins are going to field the best overall line they can.

Willis, meanwhile, would provide a solid run-blocking lineman with the versatility to play either spot on the right side. I expect his signing would make him the favorite to start at right guard, which would allow Pouncey to stay at center.

A less likely possibility is that Willis' signing could make Vernon Carey a roster casualty, who has dealt with nagging injuries recently and seems to be losing mobility and gaining pounds.

Nate Garner, three others re-signed

On Sunday, the Dolphins re-signed restricted free agent Nate Garner and exclusive-rights free agents Lex Hilliard, Lydon Murtha, and Kory Sheets to their one-year tenders.

Garner was going nowhere on his second-round tender, while the three ERFAs by rule had no negotiating rights with other teams and thus had no choice by to re-sign or not play football if tendered by the Dolphins. RFA tight end Joey Haynos was not tendered, making him unrestricted and free to sign with anyone.

Despite missing all of last season with a foot injury, Garner is clearly valued by the Dolphins after a strong showing in 2009. He's a versatile backup that can play all over the line, though I'd prefer him to be relegated to a bench role rather than be a starter.

Murtha returns as a good bet to make the team, having been Vernon Carey's replacement at right tackle for four games in 2010. With competition like Allen Barbre, James Marten, Matt Kopa, and D. J. Jones, I suspect Murtha should have no trouble maintaining a backup role again in 2011.

Hilliard and Sheets project as the Dolphins' No. 3 and 4 running backs in 2011, but neither one is completely safe. The team may very well add an experienced backup to Daniel Thomas despite the acquisition of Reggie Bush, which would probably push Sheets off the roster.

Chris Baker waived; Garrett Chisolm placed on non-football injury list

On the same day Pro Bowl offensive tackle Jake Long was placed on the PUP list, the Dolphins placed  undrafted rookie guard Garrett Chisolm on the non-football injury list and waived nose tackle Chris Baker with a failed physical.

Baker, who was active for one game in 2010, picks a bad time to be injured with Ronald Fields signed and Ryan Baker and Frank Kearse competing for a backup roster spot behind Paul Soliai.

It's no surprise to see Chisolm here, as he tore his ACL during a basketball game last December and was unable to play in South Carolina's SEC Championship appearance.

Like the PUP list, players must be placed on the NFI list to begin training camp. As of now, he still counts toward the 90-man active roster, but would not count toward the 53-man roster if he were transferred to the Reserve/NFI list once the regular season begins.

It's Chisolm could eventually be waived, but I also believe the Dolphins like him as a developmental prospect at guard and may choose to stash him here all season while he gets healthy.

As always, check out the updated projected depth chart reflecting these transactions here.

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