The Miami Dolphins didn't have much time to shape their roster after the lockout ended last month, and they may not be finished yet.
However, with the preseason just a week away and the new free-agent additions finally allowed to participate in training camp, I thought now would be a good time to unveil my first prediction at the Dolphins 53-man roster to begin the 2011 regular season.
Obviously, I'm only going to go off who is currently on the roster, and any additions or subtractions could influence my future predictions.
(Starters in italics)
Quarterbacks (3): Chad Henne, Matt Moore, Pat Devlin
Released: Kevin O'Connell
With the Kyle Orton trade seemingly dead, it looks like Henne will once again be the team's starting quarterback. I expect him to win the battle for the job and Moore relegated to the backup role.
The team did a bit of shuffling today, swapping Tom Brandstater for Kevin O'Connell, but I like what I've hear about Pat Devlin so far, so I'm going to give him the edge despite O'Connell's experience.
Running backs (3): Daniel Thomas, Reggie Bush, Lex Hilliard
Released: Kory Sheets, Nic Grigsby
Thomas and Bush are locked, and should both figure significantly into the offense in 2011. It wouldn't surprise me to see the team add a proven back to Thomas, but for now, Hilliard is all we have to work with.
The Dolphins typically keep four running backs, with the final two playing special teams. I'm going to change that up a bit and keep two fullbacks rather than one, which takes a spot away from running back.
Fullbacks (2): Lousaka Polite, Charles Clay
Since he was drafted, I've often thought Clay was a threat to Polite's roster spot. Because of the lockout, however, I'm not sure if Clay will be ready, so I'm keeping both for now.
Keep an eye on Polite though, because he's coming off a bad year and is in the last year of his contract at a fairly high salary. If Clay can show he's ready, Polite may be given the boot.
Wide receivers (5): Brandon Marshall, Davone Bess, Brian Hartline, Clyde Gates, Roberto Wallace
Released: Marlon Moore, Julius Pruitt Brooks Foster, Patrick Carter, Phillip Livas
I envision four locks at receiver, as Marshall, Bess, Hartline and Gates all appear poised to make the team without issue.
The big question is if the team will keep four or five receivers and who that fifth one might be. Moore and Wallace have to be considered the favorites, and a lot of fans like Moore, but I don't think either has much upside. I give the edge to Wallace because he proved so valuable on special teams in 2010.
Livas is certainly intriguing, but we've had these undersized speedster in camp before (think Jayson Foster or Chris Williams) and they never seem to stick. Unless he separates himself in the return game, I don't think he'll make the team.
Tight ends (3): Anthony Fasano, Mickey Shuler, Jeron Mastrud
Released: Dedrick Epps, Brett Brackett
Beyond Fasano, this is such a hard position to peg because every one of these guys is largely unproven with questionable upside. I'm playing it fairly safe here, going with the two guys that were immediately behind Fasano on the depth chart to end last season in Shuler and Mastrud.
Brackett is an intriguing guy because of his athletic ability and receiving skills, but I really don't know if he had what it takes to make the team. Regardless of who survives cut-downs here, however, nobody is safe because the team will be looking for upgrades from other teams' cuts.
Offensive tackles (4): Jake Long, Marc Colombo, Nate Garner, Lydon Murtha
Released: Matt Kopa, Allen Barbre, D. J. Jones, Micah Kia
Long should be healthy for the regular season, while Colombo seems to be the favorite to start at right tackle now that Carey has moved inside to guard.
The backup tackle position also shouldn't be very unpredictable, as Murtha currently sits as the top backup at both spots and Garner should be safe given his versatility and 2009 performance.
Offensive guards (4): Richie Incognito, Vernon Carey, Ray Feinga, John Jerry
Non-Football Injury: Garrett Chisolm
Incognito and Carey appear to be the unquestioned starters at guard, as I don't expect Feinga, Jerry or Garner to beat anyone out. The real question here is whether or not Jerry keeps his roster spot a year after being selected in the third round.
I was able to make the numbers work to allow Jerry to stick around, but there's no question his leash is very short. If the team keeps two true centers, expect Jerry gone.
Centers (1): Mike Pouncey
Released: Joe Berger
Joe Berger bombed as a starter in 2010, and there's no way he's winning the battle with the first-rounder Pouncey. That being the case, I think a lack of upside could cause him to lose his roster spot altogether, as we know Incognito and Garner can both back up the center position.
Berger's fate also could affect the guard spot, where guys like Feinga and Jerry are battling. If Berger stays, that likely means one of the backup guards will not.
Defensive ends (5): Kendall Langford, Randy Starks, Tony McDaniel, Jared Odrick, Phillip Merling
Released: Rob Rose, Johnny Jones
No surprises here, as this is the team's deepest position and there is a ton of talent here. The only thing to worry about is whether or not Merling is a surprise cut, but based on the current roster, I don't see him being beaten out by Rose or Jones. Merling will have to watch his back after final cuts, however.
Nose tackles (2): Paul Soliai, Ronald Fields
Released: Ryan Baker, Frank Kearse
I'm hesitant to call Fields a lock to make the team given what happened to Marques Douglas and Charles Grant last year, but his experience with Nolan should help and he really is a quality backup to have behind Soliai.
Baker hasn't shown much of anything in three seasons and may finally draw the short straw, while rookie seventh-rounder Kearse probably isn't ready for the big time and is more of a practice squad candidate.
Outside linebackers (5): Cameron Wake, Koa Misi, Jason Taylor, Ikaika Alama-Francis, Jason Trusnik
Released: Jonathan Freeny, Quinton Spears
The Dolphins have done a solid job adding some depth to this position, as Taylor should have a fairly significant rotational role and Trusnik should be in the mix for defensive snaps as well.
I don't think either undrafted rookie is ready to play at the NFL level, which is why I give the edge to Alama-Francis. A training camp star last year, an illness stunted IAF's development and I wouldn't consider him a lock to remain after final cuts.
Inside linebackers (4): Karlos Dansby, Kevin Burnett, A. J. Edds, Austin Spitler
Released: Mike Rivera, Mark Masterson
Burnett replaces Channing Crowder as the starter alongside Dansby, while Edds appears ready to step in as the top backup now that Tim Dobbins is out of the picture.
The real question here is whether or not the team will keep a fourth inside linebacker for special teams purposes, and who that will be. I don't consider Masterson and NFL talent, and I'm going to give Spitler the edge over Rivera given that he was drafted by the Dolphins. Whoever is is won't be very safe, though, and may not last all season on the roster.
Cornerbacks (5): Vontae Davis, Sean Smith, Will Allen, Benny Sapp, Nolan Carroll
Released: Nate Ness, Vince Agnew, Jose Perez
I'm slightly worried the Dolphins are going to cut Allen as they tended to do with recently-injured veterans during final cuts, but I think he provides good depth and I hope that isn't the case.
Of course, I wouldn't be surprised if either Allen or Sapp gets cut because combined they are an expensive pair of backups.
I don't think Ness has the upside to keep him around any longer, but he may stay of Allen or Sapp goes. I think Carroll showed promise as a rookie and should remain, while neither undrafted rookie has much of a shot to make the squad.
Safeties (4): Chris Clemons, Yeremiah Bell, Reshad Jones, Tyrone Culver
Released: Jimmy Wilson, Mark Restelli
The Dolphins' two free safety contenders (Clemons and Jones) are safe, as is starting strong safety Bell. The real question is whether or nor seventh-round rookie Jimmy Wilson, who has had a good camp, will win a spot on the roster.
That could come at the expense of Culver, who doesn't have much upside and hasn't been a real contributor lately. Still, I'll give the edge to the veteran for now and hope Wilson slips to the practice squad.
Special team (3): Dan Carpenter, Brandon Fields, John Denney
Another year, another season with the same special teams trio. The current regime has extended the contracts of all three guys since they've arrived and for good reason. The positions have no camp bodies on the roster, and thus there are no competitions happening.
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 Kory Sheets—With only three backs on the active roster, I'm sure they'd keep another one here. Sheets has intriguing speed but is coming off an Achilles' injury and hasn't yet shown he can contribute at the NFL level.
- WR Julius Pruitt—This is Pruitt's final season of practice squad eligibility, but he's the most experienced of the team's camp bodies at wideout and thus sticks around for practice purposes.
- WR Phillip Livas—Because Moore isn't eligible (see below), I'm keeping Livas around to see if a pro player can be developed from his raw speed.
- TE Brett Brackett—I thought about giving Brackett a spot on the 53, but I'm not there yet. Still, he's certainly intriguing enough to add here.
- OT Matt Kopa—Kopa was with the team last year for practice depth, and with Barbre not eligible, I like him to remain.
- NT Frank Kearse—The Dolphins invested a late pick in the small-school, big-bodied prospect, so it stands to reason they'd keep him around longer to see what they have.
- OLB Jonathan Freeny—I think Spears may be a little lanky and raw for the NFL, which is why I'm taking Freeny as a practice OLB.
- FS Jimmy Wilson—I was very close to giving Wilson a spot on my 53-man roster, and may end up doing so before September. Until then, he's a lock to be here unless he's poached.
One thing to keep in mind is that some of my cuts, like wide receiver Marlon Moore and lineman Allen Barbre, are no longer eligible for the practice squad because of how many games they've played.
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Chris J. Nelson majored in journalism at Georgia State University and currently works for Turner Sports in Atlanta. He operates his own Miami Dolphins website, The Miami Dolphins Spotlight, and he can be followed on Twitter here.
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