The Miami Dolphins officially hit the first for 2012 training camp today—with of course the added bonus of having HBO's Hard Knocks cameras rolling. As I do every year at this time, I'll be taking a look at the Dolphins' current roster (now at 90 rather than the traditional 80) and predicting my final 53 that will make the team.
There's an additional level of difficulty with making these predictions due to a predominantly new coaching staff, new schemes and a new way of doing things. Philbin and his staff have no allegiances to any holdovers or previous years' draft picks. That means any and everyone could be on the chopping block and they look to make this team their own.
Nevertheless, I'll do my best to predict the Dolphins' 53-man roster out of the 90 names I have right now. Keep in mind that the final 53 likely all are not on the roster at this time. That's because waiver claims from other teams' cuts, and perhaps even a trade or two, will further shape the Dolphins' roster before the regular season kicks off on Sept. 9.
Feel free to make your own predictions and share them in the comments, on the forum, or at my facebook discussion group. There is certainly to plenty of differing opinions on who will and won't make this team and it's always interesting to discuss with other fans.
Starters in italics
Quarterbacks (3): David Garrard, Matt Moore, Ryan Tannehill
Released: Pat Devlin
I really struggled with this group, simply because I don't think it's necessarily a lock that both Garrard and Moore make the team. Garrard seems to have the edge, meaning Moore would have potential trade value toward the end of the preseason. However, with Garrard's recent injury history and the team potentially wanting to keep Tannehill off the field until he's ready, I don't know if the team can risk defaulting the rookie to the No. 2 spot behind Garrard.
In the event the Dolphins do trade or release one of Garrard/Moore, it's possible the team would only keep the starter and Tannehill on the active roster, while moving the third-stringer (Devlin) to the practice squad as has become common practice in the NFL and was the case in both Miami and Green Bay last season.
Running backs (4): Reggie Bush, Daniel Thomas, Steve Slaton, Lamar Miller
Released: Marcus Thigpen, Jonas Gray
Bush returns as the starter after an impressive 2011 season, but whether or not he'll carry the same load remains to be seen. I'd say Thomas is in line for guaranteed touches between the tackles and the rookie Miller has some intriguing tools as well. Slaton is the wild card here, as he could easily win a top backup job or be cut altogether. With no great options behind the three locks, I'm keeping Slaton for now.
Thigpen will return to Canada, leaving Gray as an intriguing option for the practice squad. He was a top recruit out of high school and is still rehabbing a torn ACL suffered in November at Notre Dame, so giving him some time to develop is ideal.
Fullback (1): Charles Clay
Released: Jerome Messam, Ryan Mahaffey, Jorvorskie Lane
This is an interesting position, because we don't really know what kind of fullback Mike Sherman wants for his offense. Clay is more of an H-back type and has a lot of receiving ability, but he's not a pure lead blocker. That being the case, I really don't see any of the other guys cracking this roster.
The only exception would be Messam, who was a great runner in Canada and is an interesting tailback/fullback hybrid at 245 pounds. However, with two knee surgeries this offseason and no way to know if he's healthy or not, I can't justify predicting him to make the team right now.
Wide receivers (6): Chad Johnson, Brian Hartline, Davone Bess, Legedu Naanee, Roberto Wallace, B. J. Cunningham
Released: Clyde Gates, Marlon Moore, Julius Pruitt, Rishard Matthews, Jeff Fuller, Chris Hogan
The newly-renamed Chad Johnson opened camp with the starters and appears motivated to win the job, even if he's not a lock to make the team. Bess and Hartline should continue to have their roles on the offense, while the team seems to like Naanee a lot even if he hasn't shown much in his career to date.
The final two spots (as I'm keeping six total) go to Wallace, who excels on special teams and has great size, and Cunningham, who is sure-handed late-round rookie. It's a killer blow to 2011 fourth-rounder Clyde Gates, who has blazing speed but doesn't seem to be on the coaching staff's favor. Hopefully, Gates can change opinions in Miami before camp is done.
Tight ends (2): Anthony Fasano, Michael Egnew
Released: Jeron Mastrud, Les Brown
This is one position that I had a lot of difficulty with. Keeping only two tight ends (or three if you count Clay, but then you have no fullback) seems unlikely, but I don't see Brown making the team and Mastrud offers no upside either. Fasano is locked in as a starter entering the final year of his deal and I'm sure the Dolphins are hoping the athletic rookie Egnew can contribute as a rookie.
Look for this position's depth to be addressed after final cuts, because keeping just two doesn't seem very likely even if that's what I'm predicting here.
Offensive tackle (4): Jake Long, Jonathan Martin, Nate Garner, Lydon Murtha
Released: Will Barker, Will Yeatman, Dustin Waldron, Andrew McDonald
With Artis Hicks competing at guard, it seems likely the Dolphins' second-round rookie Martin starts at right tackle unless he falters badly and/or Murtha plays lights out in the preseason. Murtha still has some value as a backup so he should stick regardless, while Garner's versatility is a plus even if he had a very rough 2011 season.
Barker offers no upside, while Yeatman (moved from tight end and given No. 60 at the beginning of camp) is far too raw to contribute right away. Either Yeatman or undrafted rookie Waldron would make an excellent practice squad project, however.
Offensive guard (3): Richie Incognito, Artis Hicks, Eric Steinbach
Released: John Jerry, Ray Feinga, Josh Samuda
The writing has been on the wall for Jerry all offseason, and I have him getting the ax here as he simply doesn't have the size and athleticism for the new blocking scheme. Incognito should remain the starting left guard, while Hicks is the most likely stopgap at right guard.
Steinbach could enter the right guard mix, but he's been a left guard for most of his career and is working there on the first day of camp. He has a bit of experience at center so that versatility could help him make the team and allow Ryan Cook and his $1 million salary to be cut.
Center (1): Mike Pouncey
Released: Ryan Cook
Last year's first-rounder is entrenched as the starter, so the only question here is whether or not Cook makes the team as his backup. I have guard Eric Steinbach making the team instead, as he could serve as the backup to Pouncey on game days and a practice-squadder could spell Pouncey in practice.
Defensive end (5): Cameron Wake, Jared Odrick, Olivier Vernon, Jamaal Westerman, Derrick Shelby
Released: Jacquies Smith, Jarrell Root
Wake returns to his old position of right defensive end in the Dolphins' new 4-3 scheme. By default, Odrick gets the other starting end spot, even those he's more of an interior lineman in this scheme. Odrick does have some pass-rushing ability and should handle the run well on the outside.
Behind them, third-rounder Vernon will make the team while trying to earn time as a situational rusher, while Westerman will do the same and also play special teams. I'm predicting undrafted rookie Shelby also make the squad as a backup and developmental player.
Defensive tackle (4): Randy Starks, Paul Soliai, Tony McDaniel, Kheeston Randall
Released: Ryan Baker, Isaako Aaitui, Chas Alecxih
The Dolphins remain extremely set at defensive tackle with Starks and Soliai back as elite starters and McDaniel still around as a capable backup. (Not to mention Odrick out at end.) The Dolphins have nothing to worry about with this position and it should be a real force during the regular season.
As for the fourth and final spot, I'm giving it to seventh-round rookie Randall based on upside. He's a smart kid and really has potential to develop, while the same cannot be said for the rest of the bunch. Baker has no upside at all, while Aaitui is more of a 3-4 nose tackle and Alecxih is practice-squad material.
Outside linebackers (5): Kevin Burnett, Koa Misi, Gary Guyton, Jason Trusnik, Josh Kaddu
Released: Jonathan Freeny, Shelly Lyons
Burnett is locked in as a starter after a great first season in Miami, while Misi seems destined to work at the other spot. Drafted as a pass rusher, Misi failed in that department but has some run-stuffing ability and the team doesn't have many internal options. Guyton is his true threat with plenty of experience starting in New England (albeit at a sub-par level) but Misi seems to be the favorite for now.
I'm keeping Jason Trusnik for his special-teams ability and as a backup pass rusher (he too was a former defensive end), while rookie Kaddu can learn from the bench and play special teams in his first year.
Middle linebackers (2): Karlos Dansby, Austin Spitler
Released: Cameron Collins
Karlos Dansby returns as a starter (hopefully in better shape than he shaped up in last year) and is the natural guy in the middle with plenty of smarts to call the defensive plays and get everyone organized.
As for the backup spot, I give it to Spitler only because Collins still has practice-squad eligibility. On game days, Spitler would be limited to special teams if he dressed and someone like Burnett would move over to the middle if Dansby went down.
Cornerbacks (5): Vontae Davis, Sean Smith, Richard Marshall, Nolan Carroll, Quinten Lawrence
Released: Jonathan Wade, Vince Agnew, Marcus Brown, Trenton Hughes, Kevyn Scott
It's a passing league, so keeping five corners is a must. I have Smith listed as a starter with Davis, but the reality is that the top three corners are really starters and Marshall should play extensively and even push Smith. A free agent after the season, Smith need to get a lot more consistent and prove he deserves the new contract he surely wants.
Carroll returns as a backup due to lack of other options, and I'm keeping Lawrence over Wade and the rest because of special teams value. From what I was told by a former teammate of Lawrence's in Kansas City, his transition from wide receiver to cornerback was very impressive for one season, so there could be some upside there.
Safeties (5): Chris Clemons, Reshad Jones, Tyrone Culver, Jimmy Wilson, Kelcie McCray
Released: Anderson Russell, Tyrell Johnson
Five corners and five safeties give the Dolphins 10 defensive backs, but that's the league we're in. It seems like Clemons and Jones are penciled in as starters, while Culver returns as a veteran backup and special-teamer.
Wilson is a fan favorite that had a rough rookie season, but he some potential and is worth keeping around. I'm keeping the undrafted McCray over Russell and Johnson because those two have not impressed and McCray has some upside to him.
Special teams (3): Dan Carpenter, Brandon Fields, John Denney
Another season, another season these three are set in stone. Fields is a free agent after the season and should be a priority for the Dolphins, as this is a truly well-oiled machine.
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:
- RB Jonas Gray — An undrafted rookie out of Notre Dame, Gray is a solid running back prospect and could be brought along slowly once he recovers from November's torn ACL.
- WR Rishard Matthews — The Dolphins' other drafted receiver, Matthews loses out to Cunningham for a spot on the 53-man roster but he certainly worth a continued look here.
- WR Jeff Fuller — A big-bodied receiver with drops issues, Fuller is worth this spot because of upside and his connections to Tannehill and Sherman.
- TE Les Brown — The accountant turned tight end isn't ready for the big stage, but with two tight ends kept on the active roster, he has use in practice and could end up developing.
- OT Dustin Waldron — A quality undrafted rookie, I'm intrigued by Waldron's upside and would like to see him on the practice squad for an extended look.
- OG Josh Samuda — Primarily a guard, Samuda makes the squad to serve as a backup center in practice while Steinbach plays guard.
- DE Jacquies Smith — Smith loses out to Shelby for an active roster spot, but is worth keeping around due to the Dolphins' third pass rush depth.
- LB Cameron Collins — Collins could easily make the team over Spitler as a special-teamer, but he's the one eligible for the practice squad so he's the unlikely guy that takes the pay cut.
One thing to keep in mind is that not every cut is eligible for the practice squad. For example, Clyde Gates and John Jerry have too much NFL experience to be eligible, so they are not options here.
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