We kicked off this series a week ago with blinders on. Players already had the opportunity to impress in training camp, but hadn’t showcased their ability in a game setting yet.
Well, we got our most revealing glimpse of the 2011 Miami Dolphins last Friday night in Atlanta.
More importantly, for the sake of our 53-man roster projection, we saw a few roster bubble players surface as possible upsets to make the team.
Meanwhile, others underwhelmed and now must right the ship in a hurry if they stand a chance of surviving final cuts.
As a reminder, this isn’t a 53-man roster prediction. We’ll save that for after the exhibition season has concluded.
This is simply a freeze frame of what the team might look like if the Dolphins were forced to make final cuts today. A total of six positions have been tweaked since last week.
Quarterback: Chad Henne, Matt Moore, Kevin O’Connell
Cuts: Pat Devlin
Devlin may have played in Atlanta while O’Connell didn’t leave the sideline, but the depth chart doesn’t change from my point of view. The Dolphins have plenty of film on O’Connell and hold a better grasp for what he brings to the table.
Devlin, meanwhile, is only a rookie and the Dolphins wanted to, probably still want to, get a better feel for what he can do at this level. Devlin went 0-2 in The Georgia Dome. He’ll need to make better of his opportunities against Carolina if he hopes to surpass O’Connell and the experience he provides at the third spot.
Running back: Reggie Bush, Daniel Thomas, Lex Hilliard, Nic Grigsby
Cuts: Kory Sheets
It wasn’t the prettiest performance from Kory Sheets, who averaged a measly 2.0 yards-per-carry on nine attempts. Nic Grigsby wasn’t exactly productive either, but he led the Dolphins in rushing against the Falcons with 22 yards on seven carries.
Grigsby reportedly moved up to the third-team ahead of Sheets this week in practice. Sheets could easily bounce back and reclaim his roster spot against the Panthers, but if Week 1 was a sign of things to come, it’s clear that many were too high on him this offseason.
Fullback/H-back: Charles Clay
Cuts: Lousaka Polite
Charles Clay is already getting the nod over Polite on the first-team at fullback, as he’s crossed trained at tight end as well. Sparano also mentioned Lex Hilliard as a possible fullback option. He did give Polite a vote of confidence to the media, but it appeared as though he was paying some respect to a veteran who is likely on the outs to me.
If the Dolphins were to keep Polite it would be for short-yardage situations only. He just doesn’t get the job done anymore as a lead blocker. It’s hard to justify, as important as those short-yardage conversions are, keeping a guy around for a 10-15 plays a season.
Tight end: Anthony Fasano, Jeron Mastrud
Cuts: Mickey Shuler, Brett Brackett, Dedrick Epps
With Charles Clay figuring to see plenty of snaps at tight end as well, I still think the Dolphins can afford to only keep three. That could easily change as teams make cuts themselves and the Dolphins can search the waiver wire for some depth at the position. Because right now, they have none.
Excluding Fasano, I have a hard time seeing two of these guys, who would likely be nothing more than practice squad material on many NFL teams, taking up roster spots.
Wide Receiver: Bandon Marshall, Davone Bess, Brian Hartline, Roberto Wallace, Clyde Gates, Phillip Livas
Cuts: Marlon Moore, Julius Pruitt, John Matthews, Patrick Carter
By no means is Phillip Livas even close to being a lock to make this team. Like I said, this is a freeze frame not a prediction. This 53-man roster projection is under the assumption that the final three preseason contest will mirror what happened in the first one.
I’ll go out a limb and say that won’t happen. Phillip Livas probably won’t return another punt the distance. But if he can simply continue to show some explosiveness with the ball in his hands, while consistently producing respectable returns, he’ll likely find a spot.
With Roberto Wallace in the midst of a strong camp and preseason, and with Clyde Gates looking promising, the Dolphins will have to keep six receivers to make room for Livas.
Offensive tackle: Jake Long, Marc Colombo, Lydon Murtha, Nate Garner
Cuts: Ray Willis, Matt Kopa, Allen Barbre, D.J. Jones
Ray Willis, likely the only projected cut capable of seriously challenging for a roster spot, has been absent at practice all week for presumably a personal issue.
And while the Dolphins not cutting him, at least not to our knowledge, somewhat shows their favorable opinion of him, the guys ahead have obviously further distanced themselves.
Offensive guard: Richie Incognito, Vernon Carey, Ray Feinga
Cuts: John Jerry
This may be the weakest position on the team right now. John Jerry has given us no reason to believe he deserves a roster spot, only confirming how huge of a bust he’s been since the Dolphins selected him in round three of the 2010 NFL Draft.
Center: Mike Pouncey, Joe Berger
It looks like the Dolphins want to cut Berger, as they’ve been giving Nate Garner reps at center all week. From what I’ve heard, though, Garner has had some snapping issues. If the Dolphins don’t feel safe with Garner backing up Pouncey, then Berger likely squeezes on the roster.
But let’s not forget Richie Incognito is still capable of playing the position, although the Dolphins may not feel comfortable moving him from guard where there isn’t exactly a capable fill-in on the second team.
Defensive end: Randy Starks, Kendall Langford, Jared Odrick, Tony McDaniel, Phillip Merling
Cuts: Rob Rose, Johnny Jones
Unless the Dolphins can somehow find a trade partner for Phillip Merling, there isn’t any reason to believe they don’t keep these five defensive ends. They clearly value their depth at the position and their ability to bolster the most dominant rotation in the league.
Nose tackle: Paul Soliai, Ronald Fields
Cuts: Ryan Baker, Frank Kearse
At this point, it seems as though Ryan Baker and Frank Kearse are only duking it out for practice squad consideration. Neither appears capable of passing up Ronald Fields at the moment.
Outside linebacker: Cameron Wake, Koa Misi, Jason Taylor, Ikaika Alama-Francis, Jason Trusnik
Cuts: Jonathan Freeny, Quinton Spears
Jason Trusnik seemingly had a solid camp and even registered a sack in the exhibition opener. Ikaika Alama-Francis was decent on Friday night as well, contributing four tackles. Both seem safe for now.
Maybe Freeny or Spears could steal the show, but it needs to happen in a hurry. Trusnik has more value on special teams, so Alama-Francis would likely have to be the victim of Freeny or Spears surprising.
Inside Linebacker: Karlos Dansby, Kevin Burnett, A.J. Edds, Marvin Mitchell
Cuts: Austin Spitler, Mike Rivera, David Nixon
With Austin Spitler hurt and in a walking boot, the Dolphins went out and nabbed Marvin Mitchell. Mitchell has been fairly productive in the past and figures to bolster the Dolphins’ kick and punt coverage units. Barring injury, it appears the corps is set as is.
Cornerback: Vontae Davis, Sean Smith, Benny Sapp, Nolan Carroll, Jimmy Wilson
Cuts: Will Allen, Nate Ness, Vince Agnew, Jose Perez, K.J.
Jimmy Wilson moving exclusively to corner according to Sparano and Will Allen returning from injury complicate the matter at the position. Wilson appears to be a lock to crack the 53 as the Dolphins can’t risk letting him hit the waiver wire. Benny Sapp is running away with nickel corner duties, meaning Will Allen will likely have to find a home as a boundary corner.
With Allen's age and health being a concern, I have a hard time seeing the Dolphins pulling the plug on Nolan Carroll, who had a rough go in Atlanta but showed enough upside as a rookie. Allen is likely on the outside looking in unless the Dolphins choose to keep six corners.
Safety: Yeremiah Bell, Chris Clemons, Reshad Jones, Tyrone Culver
Cuts: Mark Restelli
I know one guy who’s is ecstatic about Jimmy Wilson’s move to corner. Tyron Culver, once projected to get passed up for backup strong safety by Wilson, now likely reclaims his job of spelling Yeremiah Bell. The battle for starting free safety is still intriguing, but it appears everything is set outside of that.
Special teams: Dan Carpenter (K), Brandon Fields (P), John Denney (LS)