The Miami Dolphins are in the midst of an unprecedented preseason roster overhaul.
After trading Ryan Cook to the Dallas Cowboys last night, the Dolphins embarked on a roster purge Friday morning. As of this writing, here's the list of players who have been axed already: Clyde Gates, Roberto Wallace, B.J. Cunningham, Jeff Fuller, Chandler Burden, Ray Feinga, Jamaal Westerman, Ryan Baker, Cameron Collins, Gary Guyton, Quinten Lawrence, Kevyn Scott and Vincent Agnew.
And things are only heating up.
The Dolphins are reportedly in trade talks with the Redskins for a deal that would send Steve Slaton to Washington in exchange for wide receiver—and former Dolphin—Anthony Armstrong:
Redskins are talking trade with the Dolphins; RB Steve Slaton for WR Anthony Armstrong, a source confirms.— Rich Campbell (@Rich_Campbell) August 31, 2012
Once the Dolphins are finished cleaning house, a wave of new players will come into camp once the waiver wire opens tomorrow.
Ray Feinga: After wavering between the Dolphins' practice squad and active roster, the team finally decided to part ways with Feinga. With an impressive camp, Feinga could've easily pushed for a roster spot, but he did nothing of the sort. On Wednesday night, Cowboys backup linebacker Victor Butler made him look silly en route to an easy sack. That was all the Dolphins coaching staff needed to see before letting him go.
Clyde Gates: We knew last year's fourth-round draft pick had special speed, but it turns out that's all he had working in his favor. Sure, Gates can slip by secondaries, but his inconsistencies with drops and route running negated the value he brought as a vertical threat—ultimately the leap from I-AA college football to the NFL may be too daunting of a transition for him to make. This is an embarrassing whiff for Jeff Ireland, but it's better to acknowledge it and move on than to hold on with false hope.
Roberto Wallace: A start throughout minicamp and the early stages of training camp, Wallace finally appeared primed for a breakthrough season. After leading the team in receiving yards in Week 1 of the preseason, he fell off the face of the earth, however. He registered just one receptions in the remaining three games. Wallace was a prized project, but failed to capitalize on his envious blend of size (6'4", 225) and speed (4.49 40).
B.J. Cunningham: By releasing Cunningham, Jeff Ireland has now released two draft picks from the last two years alone—and both were wide receivers. The Dolphins drafted Cunningham in the sixth-round of this year's draft, but he only performed modestly in the preseason. There's a chance he'll be brought back onto the practice squad so long as another team doesn't claim him first.
Jeff Fuller: Easily the most notable UDFA the Dolphins signed following the draft, Fuller is a bit of a disappointment. Despite his experience playing under Mike Sherman and with Ryan Tannehill at Texas A&M, Fuller didn't make a particularly strong impression. He continues to struggle with drops, which is the same issue that forced his draft stock to free-fall last year. However, there's a decent chance the Dolphins will bring him back onto the practice squad.
Jamaal Westerman: Not only has Ireland cut multiple recent draft picks today, he also cut a free agent whom he signed in March. Westerman figured to give the Dolphins depth at defensive end and bolster the pass rusher, but he was outperformed by UDFA Derrick Shelby, and spent most of training camp running with the third team.
Cameron Collins: A UDFA out of Oregon State, Collins hardly amounted to anything more than a camp body. Backup linebackers Austin Spitler and Jason Trusnik played well enough to secure roster spots this preseason, leaving no room for Collins.
Ryan Baker: At age 27, Baker is still a young player, but he wasn't young enough to stick with the Dolphins. Right now, it appears as though the team is prepared to move forward with 23-year-old rookie Kheeston Randall and 25-year-old Isaako Aaitui as its backup defensive tackles. Both have far more upside than Baker as well.
Gary Guyton: The second free agent signing to get axed today is linebacker Gary Guyton. Miami hoped Guyton would give them Grade A depth and a coverage linebacker, but he visibly struggled throughout the preseason. Another embarrassing whiff for Jeff Ireland.
Quinten Lawrence, Kevyn Scott, Vincent Agnew: No surprises here. All three of these cornerbacks were competing for the No. 5 spot on the depth chart, but none showed nearly enough to warrant a job. The Dolphins gave Lawrence a shot to garner a role on Wednesday night, but he blew it. With these three gone, there are only four cornerbacks remaining on the roster. It's safe to assume there will be some fresh faces in the secondary next week.
Les Brown: Brown was the sweetheart of Dolphins' training camp, but this chapter of his fairy tale story has come to an end. Despite his freak athleticism, Brown wasn't catching on as a blocker, and he didn't show enough promise in the passing game to warrant a practice squad spot. There's bound to be one team out there willing to take him in as a longterm developmental project.
Jonathan Wade: The favorite to win the No. 5 cornerback job throughout the summer, Wade's chances of securing that role were squandered last Friday when he surrendered two touchdowns to the Falcons.
Trenton Hughes: Initially projected as a camp body and never amounted to anything more. The UDFA out of Maryland will look for a chance to earn a job on another team's practice squad.
Marcus Brown: The Dolphins signed Brown to the practice squad last December, but he never amounted to anything more than a camp body.
Josh Linam: Miami scooped up this Florida native after Chad Johnson's release. Linam didn't make much of an impression during his short stint with the Phins. He'll try to work his way onto a practice squad elsewhere.
Jacquies Smith: One of the more notable UDFAs the Dolphins signed following April's draft. Smith is very undersized, and while he got away with inadequate size in college, he couldn't work his tricks against NFL offensive linemen.
Tyrell Johnson: The Vikings spent a second-round pick on Johnson in 2008, but he never lived up to his draft billing. Jeff Ireland decided to give Johnson a second chance to prove his value, but the experiment failed. He's one of the biggest disappointments from this offseason.
Jerome Messam: The CFL import has an uncanny blend of size and speed; however, his knee issues prevented him from putting it on display in camp. He saw minimal playing time in Miami's first three preseason games. Messam is bound to find a few suitors on the open market.
Chas Alecxih: After making some noise early in camp, Alecxih slowly fell behind as Kheeston Randall, Isaako Aaitui and Ryan Baker stepped up. He was a surprising cut, and he'll get a shot with another team in the near future.
8/15/2012: The Miami Dolphins signed linebacker Josh Linam, filling the roster spot vacated by Chad Johnson. Linam signed as an undrafted free agent with the Chargers following April's draft, but San Diego cut him just prior to training camp.
He's a 6'3", 237 pound, UCF-alum who doesn't project as much more than a camp body for now. The Dolphins could certainly use more depth at linebacker, but at this point, Linam is unlikely to outperform any of the incumbents.
8/12/2012: The Miami Dolphins released wide receiver Chad Johnson one day after he was charged with domestic battery. Despite playing a prominent role in the passing game, Johnson was on a one-strike policy from the get-go, and he violated it.
Joe Philbin issued a stern warning to the rest of his team by cutting one of his best wide receivers without hesitation. However, the Dolphins offense will suffer now that Ocho is gone.
8/1/2012: The Miami Dolphins signed offensive tackle Chandler Burden. An undrafted free agent out of Kentucky, Burden is a 6'4", 315 pound lineman who started two seasons at left tackle for the Wildcats.
He's a converted a defensive end whose athleticism makes him an intriguing prospect. For now, however, he's competing for a spot on the practice squad.
8/1/2012: The Miami Dolphins waived offensive tackle Dustin Waldron in order to make room for Chandler Burden. Waldron signed as an undrafted free agent following April's draft, but he didn't make much of an impression on the coaching staff.
Both he and Derek Dennis signed with the New England Patriots shortly after their respective releases. This has become common practice for Bill Belichick, who picked up linebacker A.J. Edds after the Phins cut him last summer and signed cornerback Will Allen this offseason.
7/25/2012: The Miami Dolphins signed offensive guard Eric Steinbach. A 32-year-old veteran, Steinbach missed all of the 2011 season with a back injury, but had missed only four starts in eight seasons prior.
Although Miami's biggest weakness is right guard, Steinbach won't necessarily fill that void because he's never played that position. He spent each of his eight NFL seasons at left guard.
Theoretically, the Dolphins can plug him in at left guard and move Richie Incognito over to right guard. Or, Steinbach could end up serving as a backup. We'll have to wait and see how things unfold in training camp.
7/25/2012: The Miami Dolphins waived Derek Dennis in order to make room for veteran free-agent signing Steinbach.
Dennis was signed as an undrafted free agent following the 2012 draft, but the former Temple University offensive guard didn't show enough upside in minicamp to garner an extended look.
Listed below is the Miami Dolphins' current roster (courtesy of MiamiDolphins.com) and projected depth chart. Both will be updated in real time throughout the offseason, so check back for a refreshed look at how positional battles and preseason performances are affecting the roster.
|22||Bush, Reggie||RB||6-0||203||27||7||Southern California|
|45||Collins, Cameron||LB||6-2||241||22||R||Oregon State|
|29||Culver, Tyrone||S||6-1||210||29||7||Fresno State|
|92||Denney, John||LS||6-5||255||33||8||Brigham Young|
|80||Fasano, Anthony||TE||6-4||255||28||7||Notre Dame|
|2||Fields, Brandon||P||6-5||245||28||6||Michigan State|
|83||Fuller, Jeff||WR||6-4||223||22||R||Texas A&M|
|9||Garrard, David||QB||6-1||235||34||9||East Carolina|
|82||Hartline, Brian||WR||6-2||199||25||4||Ohio State|
|41||Lane, Jorvorskie||FB||5-11||277||25||R||Texas A&M|
|31||Marshall, Richard||CB||5-11||198||27||6||Fresno State|
|88||Mastrud, Jeron||TE||6-6||253||24||3||Kansas State|
|44||Miller, Lamar||RB||5-10||212||21||R||Miami (Fla.)|
|14||Moore, Marlon||WR||6-0||190||24||3||Fresno State|
|8||Moore, Matt||QB||6-3||203||28||6||Oregon State|
|19||Naanee, Legedu||WR||6-2||220||28||6||Boise State|
|98||Odrick, Jared||DE||6-5||304||24||3||Penn State|
|70||Root, Jarrell||DE||6-3||270||24||R||Boise State|
|40||Russell, Anderson||S||6-0||205||25||2||Ohio State|
|23||Slaton, Steve||RB||5-9||199||26||5||West Virginia|
|53||Spitler, Austin||LB||6-2||243||25||3||Ohio State|
|17||Tannehill, Ryan||QB||6-4||221||24||R||Texas A&M|
|33||Thomas, Daniel||RB||6-1||228||24||2||Kansas State|
|93||Trusnik, Jason||LB||6-4||250||28||6||Ohio Northern|
|50||Vernon, Olivier||DE||6-2||261||21||R||Miami (Fla.)|
|91||Wake, Cameron||LB||6-3||250||30||4||Penn State|
PROJECTED DEPTH CHART (Updated 8/31):
QB (3): Ryan Tannehill, David Garrard, Pat Devlin
RB (4): Reggie Bush*, Daniel Thomas, Lamar Miller, Marcus Thigpen
FB (1): Jorvorskie Lane
WR (6): Davone Bess*, Legedu Naanee*, Brian Hartline, Marlon Moore, Rishard Matthews, Free Agent Signing/Trade Acquisition
TE (4): Anthony Fasano*, Charles Clay, Michael Egnew, Jeron Mastrud
LT (1): Jake Long*
LG (2): Richie Incognito*, Nate Garner
C (2): Mike Pouncey*, Josh Samuda
RG (2): John Jerry*, Artis Hicks
RT (2): Jonathan Martin*, Lydon Murtha
LDE (2): Jared Odrick*, Derrick Shelby
DT (4): Paul Soliai*, Randy Starks*, Tony McDaniel, Kheeston Randall
RDE (3): Cameron Wake*, Olivier Vernon, Free Agent Signing
SLB (3): Kevin Burnett*, Josh Kaddu, Free Agent Signing
MLB (2): Karlos Dansby*, Austin Spitler
WLB (2): Koa Misi*, Jason Trusnik
CB (5): Sean Smith*, Richard Marshall*, Nolan Carroll, Free Agent Signing, Free Agent Signing
SS (2): Chris Clemons*, Tyrone Culver
FS (2): Reshad Jones*, Jimmy Wilson
K (1): Dan Carpenter
P (1): Brandon Fields
LS (1): John Denney
KR: Marcus Thigpen
PR: Marcus Thigpen
Steve Slaton, RB: Slaton has competed with Marcus Thigpen with the No. 4 running back job throughout training camp. However, Thigpen is now being used primarily as a return specialist and slot receiver, which should allow Slaton to make the 53-man roster. Plus, he rushed for 22 yards on four carries against Carolina and caught two passes for 27 yards against Atlanta.
John Jerry, RG: Much like he did in 2011, Jerry has made one final push to stay with the Dolphins. It also helps that the team is horribly thin at offensive guard. Nevertheless, Jerry played admirably against the Falcons in his first preseason start on Friday night. He's still fighting with Artis Hicks and Nate Garner for the starting right guard job, but he should make the team regardless of that battle's outcome.
Jeron Mastrud, TE: Although Mastrud won't contribute much statistically, his blocking skills should propel him onto the 53-man roster.
Both Anthony Fasano and Charles Clay are reliable blockers, but third-round draft pick Michael Egnew is most definitely not. The Dolphins will need three competent blocking tight ends for goal-line and short-yardage formations, so retaining Mastrud is a must.
Kheeston Randall, DT: The Dolphins' seventh-round draft choice was quiet until preseason game action, when he finally made his presence felt. Randall has played noticeably well against the run, creating penetration and causing disruption. A former blue-chip recruit, Randall looks like a safe bet for the 53-man roster, but, then again, so did Julius Pruitt.
Quinten Lawrence, CB: Vontae Davis' departure opens the door for Lawrence, a converted wide receiver, to crack the 53-man roster. It's safe to assume the Dolphins will bring in at least one cornerback off of the waiver wire, but Lawrence can make the team regardless. Remember, Kevin Coyle has a knack for turning mediocre defensive backs into productive ones, and Lawrence may be his next success story.
QBs on roster: David Garrard, Matt Moore, Ryan Tannehill, Pat Devlin
Projected starter: Ryan Tannehill
Offseason additions: David Garrard (FA), Ryan Tannehill (Draft)
Roster cuts: N/A
Projected final roster: Ryan Tannehill, David Garrard, Matt Moore
According to Ben Volin of the Palm Beach Post:
Source says #Dolphins are keeping all 4 QBs on the 53 man roster for now: Tannehill, Moore, Garrard and Devlin
— Ben Volin (@BenVolinPBP) August 31, 2012
The key word here is "for now." Either Garrard or Moore are bound to depart—whether by trade or release—within the next few weeks. Trade rumors concerning Moore have run rampant this Friday afternoon, and if they are true, then the Dolphins may actually receive something decent in return despite his poor play this preseason.
For now, Pat Devlin will likely get demoted to the practice squad, but he could be brought back to the active roster once Garrard or Moore are gone.
RBs on roster: Reggie Bush, Daniel Thomas, Lamar Miller, Steve Slaton, Marcus Thigpen, Jorvorskie Lane, Jonas Gray (PUP)
Projected starter: Reggie Bush
Offseason additions: Lamar Miller (Draft), Jerome Messam (FA), Jonas Gray (UDFA), Marcus Thigpen (FA), Jorvorskie Lane (FA), Ryan Mahaffey (FA)
Roster cuts: Jerome Messam, Ryan Mahaffey
Projected final roster: Reggie Bush, Daniel Thomas, Lamar Miller, Marcus Thigpen, Jorvorskie Lane (fullback)
The running back corps is easily the most talented unit on Miami's offense. Consequently, there won't be much movement here. However, the Dolphins are reportedly negotiating with theRedskins that will send Steve Slaton to Washington in exchange for wide receiver Anthony Armstrong.
Redskins are talking trade with the Dolphins; RB Steve Slaton for WR Anthony Armstrong, a source confirms.— Rich Campbell (@Rich_Campbell) August 31, 2012
Jeff Ireland will deserve some praise if he pulls this off. Slaton was on the roster bubble all summer, and he probably would've been cut had these negotiations not materialized. But, let's wait and see if this deal actually goes through first.
WRs on roster: Davone Bess, Brian Hartline, Legedu Naanee, Marlon Moore, Rishard Matthews, Chris Hogan
Projected starters: Davone Bess, Legedu Naanee
Offseason additions: Chad Johnson (FA), Legedu Naanee (FA), B.J. Cunningham (Draft), Rishard Matthews (Draft), Jeff Fuller (UDFA)
Roster cuts: Chad Johnson, Julius Pruitt, Roberto Wallace, Clyde Gates, B.J. Cunningham, Jeff Fuller
Projected final roster: Davone Bess, Brian Hartline, Legedu Naanee, Marlon Moore, Rishard Matthews
Miami's wide receivers are literally dropping like flies. Four wide receivers—Clyde Gates, Roberto Wallace, B.J. Cunningham, Jeff Fuller—were axed on Friday, leaving only six on the roster.
If the Dolphins indeed acquire Anthony Armstrong then he'll take a spot on the 53-man roster. I also expect the team to add another wideout and either cut or demote Chris "7-11" Hogan to the practice squad.
And, of course, there's Packers wide receiver James Jones, who has been the subject of trade speculation all week. Omar Kelly of the Miami Herald reports Miami has spoken to Green Bay about a trade. Kelly writes:
"[Jeff Ireland] said the second-round pick Miami got for cornerback Vontae Davis and the third-round pick the Dolphins acquired for trading Brandon Marshall to Chicago this offseason is "ammunition" to make make something happen."
Although Jones could immediately step in as the Dolphins' No. 1 wideout, he's not worth a second-round pick.
Whether or not the Dolphins land Jones, they will likely kick the tires of two Packers wideouts who were cut on Friday morning: Tori Gurley and Diondre Borel.
One other name to watch: Marvin McNutt. The Eagles drafted him in the sixth-round of the 2012 draft, but cut him on Friday morning due to their surplus of quality wideouts. Ken O'Keefe, Miami's wide receivers coach, was McNutt's offensive coordinator at Iowa.
TEs on roster: Anthony Fasano, Charles Clay, Michael Egnew, Jeron Mastrud
Projected starters: Anthony Fasano
Offseason additions: Michael Egnew (Draft), Les Brown (FA)
Roster cuts: Les Brown
Projected final roster: Anthony Fasano, Charles Clay, Michael Egnew, Jeron Mastrud
Anthony Fasano might not be a fan-favorite, but there's a reason he's held on to the starting tight end job since 2008. He gets the job done year in and year out. He's not flashy and he doesn't post spectacular numbers, but he is consistent and reliable.
The Dolphins hope Charles Clay can do more than just get the job done. They hope he can emerge as a dangerous, seam-threat tight end who can—unlike Fasano—post spectacular numbers. Clay enjoyed a great camp, but he is struggling with drops, an issue that can't arise in the regular season.
Third-round pick Michael Egnew is a matchup nightmare who may eventually factor into Miami's passing attack—particularly in the red zone—but that won't happen for quite some time. Egnew has serious issues with dropped passes, and Mike Sherman tore him to shreds on Hard Knocks.
Because the Dolphins will another tight end who can block in short-yardage and goal-line formations, they'll keep Jeron Mastrud—a young blocking specialist. He doesn't bring much to the table as a receiver, but his role doesn't require him to. Mastrud has appeared in 22 games in two seasons with the Dolphins, starting five.
OTs on roster: Jake Long, Jonathan Martin, Lydon Murtha, Will Barker, Andrew McDonald, Will Yeatman
Projected starters: Jake Long, Jonathan Martin
Offseason additions: Jonathan Martin (Draft), Andrew McDonald (UDFA), Dustin Waldron (UDFA)
Roster cuts: Dustin Waldron
Projected final roster: Jake Long, Jonathan Martin, Lydon Murtha
There's not much up for debate at offensive tackle.
Assuming he signs a longterm contract (which isn't a guarantee), Jake Long will be this team's starting left tackle for the next decade. Needless to say, he's not going anywhere.
Jonathan Martin may be this team's starting right tackle for the next decade, but he's enduring some serious growing pains right now. He's been singled out as one of the worst performers of the preseason, most notably for his awful display against the Carolina Panthers. Martin should be okay eventually, but we need to be patient.
OGs on roster: Richie Incognito, Artis Hicks, Nate Garner, John Jerry, Ray Feinga
Projected starters: Richie Incognito, Artis Hicks
Offseason additions: Artis Hicks (FA), Eric Steinbach (FA), Chandler Burden
Roster cuts: Derek Dennis, Chandler Burden, Eric Steinbach (retired)
Projected final roster: Richie Incognito, Artis Hicks, Nate Garner, John Jerry
Richie Incognito's size and power made him a great fit in Tony Sparano's offensive line, but he'll need to make a big adjustment to fit into Joe Philbin's. The Dolphins are implementing a West Coast Offense and a zone-blocking scheme, both of which require athletic, finesse linemen.
No news is good news for Incognito.
The right guard position has been a notable weakness for the Phins dating back to 2009.
Rather than pick up a big name, Jeff Ireland targeted Arts Hicks, a journeyman, nine-year veteran who's played for three different teams in the last three years. He only started a combined 16 games in those three seasons, but it looks like the Dolphins may have plans to start him at right guard.
Hicks has been running exclusively with the first-team offense since the outset of minicamp, but a neck injury has sidelined him and opened the door for John Jerry and Nate Garner to compete for the starting job. So far, Jerry looks like the favorite, but that's certainly subject to change in the next two weeks.
OCs on roster: Mike Pouncey, Josh Samuda,
Projected starter: Mike Pouncey
Offseason additions: Josh Samuda (UDFA)
Roster cuts: Ryan Cook (trade)
Projected final roster: Mike Pouncey, Josh Samuda
The Dolphins traded backup center Ryan Cook to the Dallas Cowboys for a seventh-round pick. This was actually a fantastic deal for the Phins. Not only do they shed Cook's $1 million salary, they also get a draft pick in return for a player who would have been cut today.
Jeff Ireland can use that extra seventh-round pick as ammo for a trade.
Jeff Ireland is often the subject of Dolphins fans scorn, but he has made some excellent personnel moves since Bill Parcells departed. Last year, he not only acquired Matt Moore and Reggie Bush at bargain prices, but he drafted a center who's on track to become a perennial Pro Bowler.
Mike Pouncey started all 16 games as a rookie last season, and helped the Dolphins' rushing attack rebound from a 21st ranking in 2010 to an 11th ranking in 2011. He'll be Miami's center for years to come.
Samuda has made a tremendous impression in camp and preseason game action. The UMASS alum has taken reps with the second-team offense and has secured a spot on the 53-man roster.
DEs on roster: Cam Wake, Jared Odrick, Olivier Vernon, Jarrell Root, Derrick Shelby
Projected starters: Cam Wake, Jared Odrick
Offseason additions: Jamaal Westerman (FA), Olivier Vernon (Draft), Jacquies Smith (UDFA), Jarrell Root (UDFA), Derrick Shelby (UDFA)
Roster cuts: Jacquies Smith, Jamaal Westerman
Projected final roster: Cam Wake, Jared Odrick, Derrick Shelby, Olivier Vernon
On Friday, the Dolphins cut free agent signee Jamaal Westerman, who was one of the bigger disappointments of camp. Rater than give the Dolphins depth at defensive end and help bolster the pass rush, he ran with the third-team defense throughout camp.
However, Westerman held his own in preseason game action, so his release is moderately surprising.
Miami's switch the 4-3 brings Cameron Wake back to familiar territory. He'll step down from rush-outside linebacker to defensive end this season, the latter of which he played in the CFL. In two seasons as a starting DE for the BC Lions, Wake registered a combined 39 sacks, which is just plain ridiculous.
Former first-round pick Jared Odrick will start opposite Wake. He's considerably bigger than your typical 4-3 defensive end, but consider this: a 4-3 DE's most basic responsibilities are generating a pass-rush on passing downs and setting the edge on rushing downs.
We know Odrick can get to the quarterback; he racked up six sacks as a parttime starter last season. And, he has the size and strength to overpower offensive linemen, which will allow him to effectively set the edge and force running backs inside to Paul Soliai & Co.
UDFA Derrick Shelby is one of the biggest surprises from camp. Not only has the former Utah Ute secured a roster spot, he should receive substantial playing time during the regular season. Shelby joins third-round pick Olivier Vernon as the second rookie on this unit.
DTs on roster: Paul Soliai, Randy Starks, Tony McDaniel, Kheeston Randall, Isaako Aaitui
Projected starters: Paul Soliai, Randy Starks
Offseason additions: Kheeston Randall (Draft), Chas Alecxih (UDFA)
Roster cuts: Chas Alecxih, Ryan Baker
Projected final roster: Paul Soliai, Randy Starks, Tony McDaniel, Kheeston Randall
The Dolphins parted ways with veteran defensive tackle Ryan Baker, signaling a youth movement at the position. Baker's release all but cements Kheeston Randall's spot on the 53-man roster, and if the Phins decide to part ways with Tony McDaniel and his $3 million salary, then second-year player Isaako Aaitui should make the team as well.
Paul Soliai could've signed a massive, longterm deal with any number of teams this offseason, but he opted to sign a two-year, $18 million extension with the Phins instead.
By taking a page out of former boss Mike Zimmer's scheme, defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle may have convinced Soliai to stay.
Zimmer uses massive defensive tackles—like Domata Peko (6'3", 320) and Pat Sims (6'2", 330)—to anchor his front seven, and Soliai will play a similar role for the Dolphins. If the preseason is any indication, then Big Paul is going to pose severe matchup problems this season.
Randy Starks' pass-rushing skills make him a perfect complement to Soliai. He's been one of the team's most underrated players ever since he arrived in 2008, and he's in position to add another great season to his resume.
Tony McDaniel can replace Soliai when the Dolphins are in the nickel and dime formations. He can generate a pass rush and has sufficient size and strength to clog up space or penetrate against the run. He'll also appear on goal line formations. However, McDaniel's $3 million cap hit makes him a candidate for a trade or release.
Seventh-round pick Kheeston Randall has made a strong case for a roster spot with solid preseason play. If McDaniel is released, Randall is a lock, and he'll be joined by either Ryan Baker or Isaako Aaitui.
OLBs on roster: Kevin Burnett, Koa Misi, Josh Kaddu, Jason Trusnik, Jonathan Freeny, Shelly Lyons
Projected starters: Kevin Burnett, Koa Misi
Offseason additions: Gary Guyton (FA), Josh Kaddu (Draft)
Roster cuts: Gary Guyton
Projected final roster: Kevin Burnett, Koa Misi, Josh Kaddu, Jason Trusnik
On one hand, Jeff Ireland deserves credit for acknowledging his mistakes and moving. But, on the other hand, Gary Guyton is the second free agent signing who didn't even make it into the regular season. That's an embarrassing feat for Ireland.
Guyton struggled all preseason, even against second and third-team offenses. Miami hoped Guyton would give them a reliable backup and coverage linebacker, but it became evident he would provide neither.
These five linebackers are separated into two groups: the strong-side linebackers and weak-side linebackers.
The strong-side linebackers are led by starter Kevin Burnett. As the SAM linebacker, he'll line up across from the tight end (or whichever side of the field has more personnel), and try to to locate the ball-carrier and shed blocks from tight ends or fullbacks.This is a fitting role for Burnett, an athletic linebacker who's accrued 201 tackles in the last two seasons.
Burnett is yet to appear in a preseason game as he nurses a back injury, which is concerning considering he stumbled out of the gate last season.
Gary Guyton is the only linebacker who's a member of both the strong- and weak-side groups. He played both roles in his first four NFL seasons, all spent with the New England Patriots. Guyton's athleticism is an asset for a linebacker corps that struggles to defend opposing tight ends. If any starting linebacker goes down, he'll be the first in line to replace him.
The switch to the 4-3 could benefit Misi, who struggled as a rush outside linebacker in the 3-4. He'll now focus more on setting the edge on running plays and dropping back into coverage on passing plays.
However, both Misi and Guyton have visibly struggled this preseason. Granted, both elevated their games against the Falcons on Friday, the Dolphins can't compete if their struggles leak into the regular season.
While fifth-round pick Josh Kaddu's roster spot is secure, the same can't be said for Trusnik. Joe Philbin has no loyalty to him, but Trusnik has responded well to pressure with a very productive preseason. Given his special teams value, he should land on the roster.
MLBs on roster: Karlos Dansby, Austin Spitler, Cameron Collins, Josh Linam
Projected starters: Karlos Dansby
Offseason additions: Cameron Collins (UDFA), Shelly Lyons (UDFA), Josh Linam
Roster cuts: Josh Linam, Cameron Collins, Shelly Lyons
Projected final roster: Karlos Dansby, Austin Spitler
The Dolphins made Karlos Dansby the highest-paid inside linebacker in NFL history in 2010, and he has been a disappointment so far. That's not to say Dansby has been bad, because he hasn't. He's compiled 198 tackles in two seasons with the Phins, which is respectable.
Numbers just don't tell the whole story.
For a player who will rake in $8.8 million in 2012, Dansby is underachieving. For that kind of money, he should be making a Brian Urlacher-type impact on Miami's defense. Dansby proclaimed himself the NFL's best linebacker this offseason, a bold assertion for a player who hasn't done anything to deserve that crown.
Dansby should post higher numbers in the 4-3, as the defense works to force running backs inside toward him. But, again, numbers don't reflect a player's complete presence on the field. Dansby needs to become a dominant force and a leader for this defense.
Former seventh-round pick Austin Spitler was on the roster bubble throughout the summer, but he, like Jason Trusnik, has responded well to the pressure with a productive preseason. At this rate, he too should land on the 53-man roster.
CBs on roster: Sean Smith, Richard Marshall, Nolan Carroll
Projected starters: Vontae Davis, Sean Smith, Richard Marshall (Nickelback)
Offseason additions: Richard Marshall (FA), Quentin Lawrence (FA), Marcus Brown (FA), Trenton Hughes (UDFA), Kevyn Scott (UDFA)
Roster cuts: Trenton Hughes, Marcus Brown, Jonathan Wade, Vontae Davis (traded), Quentin Lawrence, Vincent Agnew, Kevyn Scott
Projected final roster: Sean Smith, Richard Marshall, Nolan Carroll
On Friday alone, the Dolphins parted with three cornerbacks. In total, they've parted with a whopping seven in the last two weeks. This unit is undergoing major reconstructive surgery. The Phins should be able to find a few decent CBs on the open market once the waiver wire opens. Although they won't find a starter, they should be able to scoop up some serviceable backups.
A few weeks ago, the Dolphins cornerback corps was in great shape. Vontae Davis and Sean Smith were primed for breakthrough seasons, Richard Marshall figured to provide a huge upgrade at nickelback, and Nolan Carroll was a solid No. 4 cornerback.
Now, Davis is gone, Marshall has struggled in preseason game action, and Carroll is entering uncharted territory in the upper half of the depth chart.
Safeties on roster: Reshad Jones, Chris Clemons, Jimmy Wilson, Tyrone Culver, Russell Anderson, Kelcie McCray (IR)
Projected starters: Reshad Jones, Jimmy Wilson
Offseason additions: Tyrell Johnson (FA), Kelcie McCray (UDFA)
Roster cuts: Tyrell Johnson
Projected final roster: Reshad Jones, Chris Clemons, Jimmy Wilson, Tyrone Culver
The safety corps, like the cornerback corps, looked promising a few weeks ago. Reshad Jones generated a ton of buzz in camp, Chris Clemons was healthy and UDFA Russell Anderson was emerging as a candidate for the 53-man roster.
Neither Jones nor Clemons have made their presence felt in Miami's three preseason games. The Dolphins need these two to be playmakers, especially now that the cornerback corps is bound to get beat aplenty.
Anderson, meanwhile, couldn't maintain the momentum he built up at the outset of camp, but he should, at the very least, land on the practice squad.
Specialists on roster: Dan Carpenter (K), Brandon Fields (P), John Denney (LS)
Projected starters: Dan Carpenter, Brandon Fields, John Denney
Offseason additions: N/A
Roster cuts: N/A
Projected final roster: Dan Carpenter, Brandon Fields, John Denney
While their teammates grind through scorching-hot training camp sessions and fight to retain their jobs, kicking specialists Dan Carpenter, Brandon Fields and John Denney are enjoying an uncontested training camp.
The Dolphins have opted not to bring in competition for any of the three, which marks a stark contrast between this regime and Bill Parcells/Tony Sparano's, the latter of which allowed no player to go untested in camp.
But, then again, Fields is a borderline elite punter who averaged an incredible 48.8 yards per punt last year; Carpenter posted the second highest field field goal percentage of his career in 2011, converting on 85.3 percent of his tries; and Denney is the longest-tenured Dolphin on the roster, and his consistently is unparalleled.
Fields, Denney and Carpenter—especially Fields—are unsung heroes for this team, and their importance should never go overlooked. We have every reason to feel completely confident in Miami's kicking game in 2012.
Returners on roster: Davone Bess, Lamar Miller, Rishard Matthews, Marcus Thigpen
Projected starters: Davone Bess (PR), Lamar Miller (KR)
Offseason additions: Lamar Miller (Draft), Rishard Matthews (Draft), Marcus Thigpen (FA)
Roster cuts: N/A
Projected final roster: Davone Bess (PR), Rishard Matthews (KR)
He's no Devin Hester, but Davone Bess has actually been one of the league's most productive punt returners over the last four years. Last season was the third time he's averaged more than 11 yards per punt return in a season.
Bess won't be unseated as the team's punt returner, but things aren't so clear at kick returner.
Rishard Matthews and Marcus Thigpen have both received their share of kick returns this preseason, but it's unclear if either will even make the roster.