Miami Dolphins vs Atlanta Falcons: How Loss Affects Fins' Roster
I must apologize. Why? Well, somebody probably should to the fans who had to sit through the Miami Dolphins' dismal 16-6 loss to the Atlanta Falcons on Friday night.
Mind you, I had nothing to do with the game and sat through it too, but with a scant two weeks until the season opener in Buffalo an act of contrition might be a step towards admitting that Miami is simply not ready yet.
However the focus of the following slides and paragraphs is NOT to harp on the inadequacies displayed last night, but rather to take a look at how the roster is shaping up. In short not only who will make the team and who will not but also who is a starter and who should sit the bench.
Keep in mind, that like every other team in the NFL, the Dolphins will be searching through other teams' cuts to make some final updates to the roster, but pretty much what you have down in Davie, Florida right now is what you have to choose from for the game against the Bills.
There is also the possibility of a trade like the one that brought reserve cornerback Bennie Sapp to Miami for wide receiver Greg Camarillo, but a period of adjustment is necessary for any new player which limits any initial impact.
1. Sean Smith
Forget for a second that Smith was taken out of the starting lineup Friday night for a violation of team rules. He doesn't deserve to start right now based on his play. He has been beaten repeatedly in preseason with the latest scorch marks coming as the result of a double move by Falcons' receiver Roddy White. If Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan hadn't made such a poor throw White would have waltzed to the endzone.
You want Smith to succeed and show his flashes of ability on a more consistent basis, but whether its his height, confidence or just hip tightness, he is unfortunately a big-play waiting to happen-for the other team.
The huge problem is that the Dolphins don't have a very good alternative to the second-year player. Jason Allen responded to his starting opportunity on Friday by providing good coverage on one play and then getting beat on the next.
The aforementioned 5'9" Sapp is more suited to the nickel role that Sean Smith simply can't play because of his 6'4" frame. Imagining Smith lined up against Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker in the slot is enough to make Dolphins fans feel queasy.
Note to veteran cornerbak Will Allen: Get healthy quick.
2. Vontae Davis
Vontae Davis had his share of missteps in the first two preseason games of the year, but he was outstanding on Friday night. He had three passes defensed, challenging the Falcons' White on multiple occasions.
Davis is unparalleled in run support and continually comes to make the big tackle on short passes. His aggressive play forced a Michael Turner fumble that was recovered by Karlos Dansby (the other defensive player who played really well on Friday).
I expect that when Mike Nolan turns up the blitz schemes during the regular season, Davis has to be an integral part of the package because even though he is needed in coverage his explosiveness is too much of a benefit in getting to opposing quarterbacks.
3. Marlon Moore
I wonder what kind of odds one could have gotten that two undrafted free agents out of the Western Athletic Conference would make the Miami Dolphins in a three year span.
However, that's exactly what's happened with Devone Bess (Hawaii) and now should happen with Marlon Moore (Fresno State). Bess' ascent is well-chronicled but no would have guessed at Moore's rapid ascension. On Friday night, Moore saw time with the starters on multiple receiver sets and had a 14-yard end around.
Moore may not have elite physical gifts but is a natural route runner and has grabbed the oppotunity presented to him.
4. Patrick Turner
Patrick Turner still hasn't secured a roster spot. It's hard to believe, especially after the Camarillo trade, but I think you can make the case that keeping undrafted free agent Roberto Wallace, another 6'4" receiver, is a better bet for the Dolphins.
Turner failed to make an impact against the Falcons and doesn't seem to understand that you must run the routes on "the passing tree" to precision in the NFL if you are not gifted with blazing speed. Yes, Turner is a big man, but he also doesn't play that way and doesn't seem to shield defenders away from the ball with his body.
5. Ricky Williams Over Ronnie Brown
There I said it.
Neither running back performed well against the Falcons (a combined 14 yards rushing) or for that matter stood out during the entire preseason (The Dolphins are averaged just 2.6 yards per carry) but Ronnie Brown simply hasn't looked like his old self since before the foot injury that ended his season last year against Tampa Bay.
Williams, at the least looks like he still has the ability to accelerate and hit the hole if the offensive line would provide one. They didn't against the Falcons.
I'm not saying this has to be a permanent move, but until Brown is creating his own holes and isn't content with one or two yard plunges Miami has to do what is best for the team and that's start Williams.
6. Starting Center
The winner of the battle for starting center between Jake Grove and Joe Berger has been won by, drum-roll please-well, there isn't a winner yet.
That's a problem with two weeks until the start of the regular season.
Grove would probably be the preferred option for Miami but he can't stay on the field and has given new meaning to the term "injury prone".
Berger is adequate but certainly not much more than that and you get the feeling that if there was another realistic option Miami might turn in that direction. If Nate Garner was healthy, he might have gotten a shot at the competition.
7. Micah Johnson
Summer undrafted free agent pick-up Micah Johnson would appear to have beaten out a pair of seventh round draft picks in Austin Spitler (2010) and J.D. Folsom. The former Kentucky Wildcat is at his best coming forward and saw playing time alongside Dansby on Friday due to injuries to Channing Crowder and Tim Dobbins.
Johnson will need to consistently produce on special teams to stick be is powerful, which separates him from both Spitler and Folsom.
8. Charlie Anderson
Going into training camp, there was some thought that Charlie Anderon might start at one of the two starting outside linebacker positions.
Now, it's a question of whether he makes the team.
Anderson has not had a good training camp, despite plenty of opportunity and a lack of depth at the position for the Dolphins.
Friday night's game against the Falcons was a depressing one for the veteran as he was moved to inside linebacker and promptly beaten for a big pass play. Then he was called for a personal foul as he pushed a receiver well out of bounds.
9. The Third Tight End
Miami doesn't have a third tightend. That much was clear from the game against the Falcons. Not only did Joey Haynos go down with a foot injury that might be serious, but he might not have made the team anyway.
Second-year player John Nalbone is still too raw for anything but the practice squad, which means the Dolphins will sift through other teams cuts during the next week looking for a third tight end.
Since good tightends are a scarce commodity in the NFL look for the Dolphins to only carry Anthony Fasano and David Martin (who hasn't impressed so far either after returning from a year absence) on the opening day roster.
10. Last Game As Dolphins
I am not going to be foolish enough to try and predict the exact 53-man roster for next Saturday, because once again I do believe that Miami will try to add a few castoffs from other teams or pursue a trade.
Still, I have a sense of who has played their last game for the Dolphins against Atlanta this past Friday night or will have played for Miami for the final time against Dallas on Thursday.
These players are: QB Pat White, FB Rolly Lumbala, WR Julius Pruitt, WR Roberto Wallace (I know I said I'd rather keep him over Patrick Turner but I don't think the Dolphins necessarily agree) TE John Nalbone, TE Joey Haynos, OT Andrew Gardner, OT Lydon Murtha, OG Ray Feinga, C Andrew Hartline, DE Ryan Baker, DE Lionel Dotson, DT Montavious Stanley, LB Quentin Moses, LB Chris McCoy, LB J.D. Folsom, LB Austin Spitler, CB Kevin Hobbs, CB Ross Weaver, CB Nate Ness, and S Jonathon Amaya.
These cuts should get Miami down right around the 53-player number.
I am aware that this leaves Miami preciously thin at offensive tackle and my thought would be that one of the remaining guards would switch over if needed due to injury. Murtha could just as easily make the eam and G Corey Procter or Donald Thomas could be cut.
I am also not completely sold on LB Charlie Anderson as I mentioned previously or S Rashad Jones. Let's say that experience keeps Anderson around and coverage on special teams secures a roster spot for Jones.
Wallace, Nalbone, McCoy, Spitler, Ness, and Amaya are among the candidates for the practice squad.