With almost a month of training camp, including a scrimmage and a preseason game to their credit, the 2015 Miami Dolphins are starting to firm up the roster. 90% of the jobs are probably set by now, but injuries have given others an unexpected opportunity to shine. This has created welcomed depth chart dilemmas for Joe Philbin and his staff.
Here are my roster projections as of this writing, with expected jobs by position in parenthesis and those who I think have a reasonable chance at a roster spot (which means absolutely nothing in terms of their REAL chances).
Offensive Tackle (3)
Starters (2): Branden Albert (LT), Ja’Wuan James (RT)
Reserves (1): Jason Fox
Comment: There are only three dedicated tackles on the roster, though some of the guards have the ability to play outside as well. Albert’s health is probably the difference in stabilizing the offensive line and qualifying for the playoffs. Philbin and the training staff should continue to be cautious about his rehab into playing form.
Offensive Guard (4)
Starters (2): Dallas Thomas (LG), Billy Turner (RG)
Reserves (1): Jamil Douglas, Jeff Linkenbach, TBD
Comment: Offenses are built from the inside out, so there is a lot riding on the quality of play from this position. Unfortunately, the guards have been shaken every which way but loose by Ndamukong Suh and the rest of the interior defensive line. A positive showing against the Bears calmed the calls to sign Pro Bowler Evan Mathis (the ‘TBD’ above)…for now. Perhaps the Guard struggles are mainly due to having to face an elite Dolphin defensive line; the Bears’ offensive interior struggled in kind. We will learn more about this unit this week as they face the Panthers in drills as well as the second preseason game.
Starter (1): Mike Pouncey
Reserves (1): Sam Brenner
Comment: Last season Pouncey became the third Dolphin to earn Pro Bowl honors at two different positions (Cam Wake, Randy Starks). He would prefer to stay at the Center position, though I suppose it is possible he could be moved back to Guard again; last year’s starter at Center, Samson Satele, is still a free agent. Brenner’s flexibility across the OL makes him a likely keeper as a reserve.
Running Back (4)
Starter (1): Lamar Miller
Reserves (3): Jay Ajayi, Mike Gillislee, LaMike James, Damien Williams
Comment: Miller has added muscle and is enjoying his best training camp as a Dolphin. His improved pass pro skills have been noticed. James and Williams are in a heated battle for the second string role and are also taking special teams reps to strengthen their respective cases. Ajayi, the team’s fifth round draft pick, has some work to do to avoid assignment to the practice squad (or worse). Gillislee really hurt his chances for a job after a careless and preventable fumble at the tail end of a long run versus the Bears, which was called out by an irritated Philbin during his postgame presser. Memo to Gillislee: don’t piss off the boss.
Comment: The Dolphins didn’t keep a dedicated fullback on the roster last season and figure to abstain again this year. Curiously, DT Earl Mitchell was seen taking snaps as a FB during recent practice sessions. Mitchell has two years’ experience in the role in college, and could be ideal in short yardage and goal line situations. Scouts are known to love the potential LB Jeff Luc could bring to the role, but he’d have to show his worth as a LB primarily before he could be considered.
Quarterback (2…for now)
Starter (1): Ryan Tannehill
Reserves (1): Matt Moore
Comment: It was looking like the Dolphins would retain three quarterbacks until McLeod Bethel-Thompson and Josh Freeman put their hopes on life support with dreadful outings versus the Bears. It would take a major eye-opening performance between now and the September 5 cut down to 53 players to change their respective prospects.
Wide Receiver (6)
Starters (3): Greg Jennings, Jarvis Landry, Kenny Stills
Reserves (3): Matt Hazel, Rishard Matthews, DeVante Parker (PUP), Michael Preston
Comment: WR has been one of the most competitive positions on the team, but three players have shined above all others (Jennings, Landry, and Matthews). Jennings is making a strong statement for a starting job, proving that the savvy vet still has plenty left in the tank. Stills has lost practice time but the Dolphins still list him as a starter. Some have called Parker the most impressive Dolphins rookie WR they’ve ever seen, but his lingering foot injury makes it difficult at this time to bench Jennings or Stills in his favor. Hazel and/or Preston, both good young players, could be caught in a numbers game. Preston is an ideal candidate for the practice squad.
Tight End (3)
Starters (1): Jordan Cameron
Reserves (2): Gerell Robinson, Tim Semisch, Dion Sims, Jake Stoneburner
Comment: Offensive coordinator Bill Lazor likes
employing two TE sets, which necessitates keeping three TEs on the roster. Sims has shown considerable improvement, easing the durability concerns regarding the oft-concussed Cameron. He is a lock as the #2 TE and is a viable starter if Cameron does not hold up. Semisch and Stoneburner are fighting it out for the final job, but could have added competition from Gerell Robinson or other new signings as preseason unfolds. Arthur Lynch, last years’ fifth round draft pick, was recently waived.
Defensive Tackle (5)
Starters (2): Earl Mitchell, Ndamukong Suh
Reserves (3): AJ Francis, CJ Mosley, Jordan Phillips
Comment: Suh’s impact on the defense has been astonishing. Together with Cam Wake and CB Brent Grimes on the left side, offenses are being forced to pick their poison (such as single-blocking Wake) or limit what they can do to the strong side of the field. Francis, Johnson, and Phillips round out a deep and talented unit, which will keep Suh fresh for fourth quarter closeouts. Johnson is on the outside looking in after an undisciplined effort against the Bears; he needs to have a great game versus Carolina in order to re-join the discussion.
Defensive End (4)
Starters (2): Cam Wake, Olivier Vernon
Reserves (2): Terrence Fede, Derrick Shelby
Comment: This group (starters, reserves) seems to be set. Fede is having a very strong camp and continues to get better and better, proving it doesn’t matter where you come from…only where you have the desire and determination to get to.
Starters (3): Jelani Jenkins (ROLB), Chris McCain (LOLB), Koa Misi (MLB)
Reserves (3): Spencer Paysinger, Kelvin Sheppard, Jordan Tripp, Zach Vigil
Comment: The starters are almost certainly in place now though missed snaps are becoming a concern; Misi has been slow to return to work from a calf injury, with McCain and Tripp are limited with ankle injuries suffered in the Bears game. Rookie Zach Vigil has taken advantage and is making a case for himself as this year’s undrafted find; he recorded a sack and five solo tackles against the Bears. Not too shabby!
Starters (2): Brent Grimes (LCB), Jamar Taylor (RCB)
Reserves (3): Zack Bowman, Will Davis, Tony Lippett, Bobby McCain, Brice McCain
Comment: Brice McCain continues to press Taylor for a starting job; this hotly contested competition will go through the final preseason game. The Dolphins will keep at most two other reserves, likely those most proficient at special teams. Look for the raw but talented Lippett to go on the practice squad.
Starters (2): Louis Delmas (SS), Reshad Jones (FS)
Reserves (4): Walt Aikens, Don Jones (PUP), Jordan Kovacs, Michael Thomas, Cedric Thompson
Comment: With the exception of Don Jones’ injury, this group is all but set. If Jones cannot recover, Thompson’s chances of sticking on the final 53 are better if he proves himself on cover teams; otherwise, he is likely headed for the practice squad.
Kicker (1): Andrew Franks, Caleb Sturgis
Comment: This is another battle that figures to go down to the last possible moment; the undrafted Franks has a strong leg with good accuracy.
Punter (1): Brandon Fields
Comment: Fields is one of the best punters in football. Enough said.
Long Snapper (1): John Denney
Comment: Denney is the longest tenured Dolphin and is a lock to return in 2015.