The Miami Dolphins opened up training camp yesterday afternoon in Davie, so it's time to take an overall look at how the team is shaping up heading into the season.
The following is a position-by-position breakdown of the Dolphins' current 80-man roster (plus unsigned restricted free agent Ronnie Brown), along with predictions for who I currently see making the team's active roster.
Quarterbacks (3): Chad Henne (starter), Tyler Thigpen, Chad Pennington
Released: Pat White
Chad Henne enters camp the unquestioned starter, as it should be. He showed a great arm and good leadership during his first full season of starting in 2009 and looks to have a lot of upside. New weapons like Brandon Marshall will only help.
Tyler Thigpen seems likely to stick around as a backup given his upside and potential trade value next offseason as a restricted free agent.
Veteran Chad Pennington's presence is welcome. It's a luxury to have a player with his experience and productivity, and even if he never plays, he will surely be an asset to Henne's development.
A lot of people want to give Pat White more time to prove himself, but I've seen enough. I don't care about any of the fluff coming from the team or the other players—White is not an NFL quarterback.
There is no doubt in my mind that White is not good enough to be on the Dolphins roster. The only question is whether the team admits that now and goes into the 2010 season without him, or continues to keep him on simply because they don't want to admit their mistake in last year's second round.
For the team's benefit, hopefully it's the former.
Running backs (4): Ronnie Brown (starter), Ricky Williams, Patrick Cobbs, Lex Hilliard
Released: Tristan Davis, Kory Sheets
The Dolphins head into this season once again stacked at running back, with two capable starters in Brown and Williams.
Whether you have only one of them or both, they are both good enough and the Dolphins' line is good enough that running the ball should be no problem.
I expect Patrick Cobbs, who is coming off a torn ACL, to overtake Lex Hilliard for the No. 3 job. Hilliard is not that impressive (averaging just 3.9 yards per carry in 2009) and isn't the versatile coach favorite Cobbs is.
Much has been made about Kory Sheets' blazing speed, but I don't see him making the roster even as a returner. He's just not going to contribute any on offense to make it worth it.
Fullback (1): Lousaka Polite
Released: Rolly Lumbala
Polite played like a Pro Bowler last season, and he is not going to be challenged by CFL import Lumbala.
The Dolphins don't usually keep two fullbacks, so Lumbala would have to make himself indispensable on special teams to stick around.
Wide receivers (5): Brandon Marshall (starter), Brian Hartline (starter), Greg Camarillo, Davone Bess, Patrick Turner
Released: Ryan Grice-Mullen, Taurus Johnson, Marlon Moore, Julius Pruitt, Roberto Wallace
Marshall enters his first Dolphins camp as the No. 1 receiver, and that won't change. He may have his off-the-field problems, but there is little doubt his talent fills the biggest void of the Dolphins' offense.
The biggest question at receiver is who will start opposite Marshall. My favorite all offseason has been second-year player Brian Hartline, and it looks like that may just happen as Hartline has spent the first two days of camp with the first team.
Davone Bess and Greg Camarillo are both fairly reliable receivers (Camarillo more so than Bess) and should compete for catches beyond Marshall and Hartline.
I'd prefer to see Camarillo in the slot during three-receiver sets, as he has everything Bess does along with much better hands.
Patrick Turner was extremely disappointing as a rookie third-rounder last year, but the Dolphins don't really have anyone better to keep around, which is why I think Turner gets another shot in 2010.
Ryan Grice-Mullen is a poor man's Davone Bess, and there is simply no reason for two of them. Taurus Johnson and Julius Pruitt both have their positive traits, but they would have to really separate themselves to make the Dolphins keep either over Turner.
Tight ends (3): Anthony Fasano, Joey Haynos, Kory Sperry
Released: Jared Bronson, John Nalbone
A quality blocker, Fasano's receiving numbers were way down in 2009 after a career year during his first season with the Dolphins.
Joey Haynos hasn't developed into anything more than a backup yet, but he probably won't be challenged for the No. 2 job by any of the other tight ends on the roster.
The real battle here is between 2009 fifth-rounder John Nalbone and undrafted second-year player Kory Sperry. The money has to be on Sperry at this point, who got the call to the active roster during the 2009 season over Nalbone, despite Nalbone being one of the team's own drafted rookies.
Offensive tackles (3): Jake Long (starter - LT), Vernon Carey (starter - RT), Andrew Gardner
Released: Lydon Murtha
There isn't much to wonder about here, as Long is one of the elite left tackles in all of football and Carey is very solid as well as highly compensated.
The Dolphins' sixth-round pick in 2009, Gardner appears to be unchallenged for the backup left tackle job, and early reports from camp indicate he's in great shape.
Lydon Murtha isn't a bad option as a backup right tackle, but he will probably get pushed off the roster by Nate Garner, who provides more experience and versatility at other positions.
Offensive guards (4): John Jerry (starter - LG), Richie Incognito (starter - RG), Nate Garner, Cory Procter
Released: Donald Thomas
Early reports have Jerry starting at right guard and Procter at left guard, although I expect at some point, we'll get back to the Jerry-at-LG, Incognito-at-RG setup most of us expected. The Dolphins do love to shuffle their linemen around during camp.
In the event that Jerry and Incognito nail down the starting jobs, the favorites to back them up have to be Garner and Procter.
Garner was actually quite solid filling in for Justin Smiley last season, while Procter has lots of starting and backup experience and is a familiar face from his time in Dallas.
The odd man out might actually be Thomas, who has opened each of the past two seasons as the team's starting right guard after being selected in the sixth round in 2008.
Injuries and poor play have held Thomas back, and the Dolphins have plenty of other options right now. Thomas doesn't have the experience Procter does or the versatility Garner does, which is why I see him as the fifth-best guard on the team and a potential roster casualty.
Centers (2): Jake Grove (starter), Joe Berger
Released: Andrew Hartline
This is another position where there is little doubt as to who is making the team, as both Grove and Berger were excellent starters when they played last season.
As good as Berger played in 2009, I still think Grove has to be the starter. He is better, and the Dolphins did not sign him to a $29 million contract to sit on the bench.
A former college tackle, Hartline doesn't stand much of a chance of sticking around.
Defensive ends (5): Kendall Langford (starter - LDE), Jared Odrick (starter - RDE), Charles Grant, Marques Douglas, Tony McDaniel
Placed on I.R.: Phillip Merling (Achilles')
Released: Ryan Baker, Lionel Dotson
Langford returns for his third straight season as a starter, and the guy is a rock. He's not flashy, as with most 3-4 defensive ends, but he's a great run-stuffer and does his job well.
With Merling reportedly out for the season, an extra roster spot should open and Odrick should have a clear path to the starting right guard job. Odrick would really have to play himself out of the starting lineup, and I don't expect that to happen.
Recent veteran additions Douglas and Grant may be competing for one spot, but based on the lack of talent behind them, I think both have a good shot to make the team. If only one is kept, it will probably be Douglas.
I like Baker over McDaniel in terms of potential, but McDaniel has more experience and is no longer practice-squad eligible. I think the Dolphins try to sneak Baker back to the practice squad to work as a practice defensive end/nose tackle.
After two seasons of really contributing nothing, I think the veteran depth the Dolphins now have at end finally pushes 2008 seventh-round pick Dotson off the roster.
Nose tackles (2): Randy Starks (starter), Paul Soliai
Released: Montavious Stanley, Travis Ivey
For those of you concerned about Starks moving from defensive end to nose tackle, take a look at the Dallas Cowboys.
The Cowboys made a Pro Bowl nose tackle out of former 3-4 end Jay Ratliff. Starks is similar in style and is just as good, if not better, than Ratliff. The Dolphins won't miss a thing with Starks replacing Jason Ferguson, and probably have even upgraded.
Paul Soliai hasn't developed into the starter everyone has hoped, but he is a solid backup nose tackle and has all the size and talent in the world if he ever decides he wants to be something more.
I don't see Soliai getting pushed off the roster by a journeyman like Stanley or a raw undrafted free agent in Ivey.
Outside linebackers (5): Cameron Wake (starter - WOLB), Koa Misi (starter - SOLB), Charlie Anderson, Quentin Moses, Ikaika Alama-Francis
Released: Chris McCoy, Erik Walden
Anderson has had his moments, but is best suited as a backup. I think the Dolphins have to give Wake a real chance to show what he can do as a full-time starter, given his ability as a pass rusher.
It looks as if Misi is going to get first dibs on the other starting job, and could go almost unchallenged if the Dolphins focus Anderson on the weak side.
Moses returns as an experienced backup, while I'm going to go out on a bit of a limb and say recently converted defensive end (and former Lions defensive tackle) Ikaika Alama-Francis makes the roster after shifting to outside linebacker.
According to Tony Sparano, linebackers coach Bill Sheridan says Alama-Francis can gain and lose weight quickly and has the athleticism for the move. He reportedly weighs around 275 now, so I can see him as a Matt Roth-type on the strong side.
Walden finally gets kicked off the roster after two years of special teams duty, but little else.
Meanwhile, I think seventh-round rookie McCoy is ticketed for the practice squad in his first full season.
Inside linebackers (4): Karlos Dansby (starter - MIKE ILB), Channing Crowder (starter - MOE ILB), Tim Dobbins, A. J. Edds
Released: J. D. Folsom, Austin Spitler
The Dolphins upgraded their defense in a major way with the signing of Dansby, who brings a talent level and play-making ability the team has been missing at the position for quite some time.
I believe there could be a bit of a competition for the other starting inside linebacker job, though Crowder should still be considered the favorite. However, I wouldn't put it past new arrival Dobbins to push him for playing time.
Rookie fourth-rounder Edds should also see some time on defense as a rookie given his athleticism and ability in pass coverage, which is a department the Dolphins' linebackers have been lacking in recent years.
In a battle between a 2009 seventh-rounder and 2010 seventh-rounder, Folsom and Spitler are likely competing for one practice squad spot.
Cornerbacks (5): Vontae Davis (starter), Sean Smith (starter), Will Allen, Jason Allen, Nolan Carroll
Released: Evan Oglesby, Nate Ness, A. J. Wallace, Ross Weaver
The Dolphins are a bit deeper at cornerback than they were a year ago, given the experience of Davis and Smith as well as the return of Will Allen.
I expect Allen to play quite a bit, but I don't believe the team will let him inhibit the progression of the team's talented young corners.
Former first-rounder Jason Allen has been a bust at corner, but he is absolutely one of the best special teams players on the team and is needed more than ever with the departure of Nathan Jones. I don't see him getting cut at this point.
Veteran Oglesby and fifth-rounder Carroll are likely competing for one roster spot, and I'll give it to Carroll. Oglesby doesn't offer an upside at this point in his career, whereas Carroll's lack of experience isn't a big deal as the No. 5 cornerback.
I don't give Ness, Wallace, or Weaver much chance to make the team, although it's quite possible one could make the practice squad. Ness should have the advantage at this point as the most experienced of the three.
Safeties (4): Chris Clemons (starter - FS), Yeremiah Bell (starter - SS), Reshad Jones, Tyrone Culver
Released: Jonathon Amaya
It appears Clemons will get a chance to prove himself as the team's starting free safety, and rookie Jones doesn't seem to be ready to seriously push for the job yet. Whether or not Clemons can actually handle the job remains to be seen, but he's the team's best option right now.
Bell is entrenched as the starting strong safety, although I expect to see his backup Culver on defense at times too. Culver has been a good dime back for the Dolphins over the past few seasons.
A talented undrafted rookie, Amaya will have to excel on special teams to persuade the Dolphins to keep five safeties. He's an excellent developmental candidate for the practice squad if he doesn't get picked up by someone else.
Special Teams (3): Dan Carpenter (placekicker), Brandon Fields (punter), John Denney (long snapper)
Three special teams spots, and three players to fill them. All three signed contract extensions this offseason, and all three are very good at their jobs. Nothing to figure out here.
The Dolphins will likely get at least one or two of their practice squad players from other teams' cuts, but just for fun, here is the eight-man practice squad I would make with the team's own cuts:
- Kory Sheets — Lighting fast and some play-making ability on offense and in the return game.
- Julius Pruitt — Good blend of size (6-2, 206) and 4.3 speed, so worth keeping around to develop.
- John Nalbone — The Dolphins like to have four tight ends between the active roster and practice squad, so they will probably keep Nalbone around if he doesn't go elsewhere.
- Andrew Hartline — One of only two offensive line cuts eligible for the practice squad (Murtha being the other) and Hartline offers more position versatility in practice.
- Ryan Baker — Still practice squad eligible, not flashy enough to attract attention from other teams, and can play both defensive end and nose tackle.
- Austin Spitler — It's between Folsom and Spitler for his spot, and I like Spitler a bit better.
- Nate Ness — Ness has experience at both corner and safety, so he'll be useful in practice.
- Jonathon Amaya — A play-making safety with a bit of upside, Amaya is one of the Dolphins' more talented undrafted free agents and is worth grooming a bit.
Remember, not all players I have being released above are eligible for the practice squad. Players eligible for the practice squad are:
"players who do not have an Accrued Season of NFLexperience; and (ii) free agent players who were on the Active List for fewer than nine regular season gamesduring their only Accrued Season(s)."