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  Roster, Starters Firming Up
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by Chris Shashaty, Phins.com Columnist

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If Tony Sparano weren’t a football coach, he might be a mechanic. Such is his love for tinkering.

 

Nowhere is this more evident than with the interior of the offensive line, where Sparano and line boss Dave DeGuglielmo have been switching around the pieces on a practice-by-practice basis, trying to find the best combinations to go to battle with.

 

These sorts of experiments are useful during OTAs and the first half of the preseason; you need a reasonable body of work in order to make informed decisions.

 

“I have four preseason games right now and as I look at them, I can’t find enough time for some of the players that I have to see,” Sparano complained. “There are some guys that you really have to see a lot of when you start counting quarters with what you’re first group needs because they need time. You just can’t roll those guys out there and let them play.”

 

Unfortunately for Sparano, the time for this sort of thing is quickly running out. But this is also a good thing because forces the focus to shift to his finalists and the business of winning.

 

Thankfully, no one understands this better than Sparano.

 

"Yesterday,'' Sparano said, in reference to when the tinkering needs to end. “I wish it was done already, but it's not done. We'll keep slugging it out here but I think it has to settle down by the next week, or by the end of this preseason game. I kind of got to get it settled down one way or the other.”

 

Yes he does, and he’ll have to make it happen between now and the end of the critical third preseason game. The good news is that he and his staff are already pretty close to setting the roster.

 

So based on what we’ve seen thus far, here is my view on the starting 25.

 

Quarterback: Chad Henne

He gets the nod because he is the future. Would he get it on performance if Sparano had encouraged an open competition between Henne and Chad Pennington? I’m not 100% convinced.

 

Offensive backs: Ronnie Brown and Lousaka Polite

I keep waiting for Brown to show signs of soreness from his foot injury, but he has been remarkably spry thus far. That’s good news for Brown and the team. The indispensible Polite will go again at fullback.

 

Wide Receivers: Brandon Marshall and Brian Hartline

Stop worrying about Marshall. If anything, he looks bored slogging through meaningless scrimmages and games. Hartline is clearly the best fit at the flanker position.

 

Tight End: Anthony Fasano

That fourth rounder they paid to the Cowboys for Fasano and Akin Ayodele (no longer on team) ranks with one of the great steals in team history.

 

Tackles: Jake Long and Vernon Carey

These bookends are the biggest assets (literally) on offense; skill players can make a lot of flashy plays when you have two excellent tackles to hold down the perimeter. Long is a two time Pro Bowler and Carey was named an All-Pro by Sports Illustrated.

 

Guards: Donald Thomas and John Jerry

It’s very hard to find guys who block with the impact and power that Thomas has. The problem is that he loses his technique and intensity from time-to-time, which is a reason why Sparano is shuffling him around; call it a bit of a head game on Sparano’s part. In the end, Thomas will be a starter. As for Jerry, he has been running with the first teamers since camp opened and has earned the opportunity. The only worries with him are inexperience and a recent knee injury that the team characterizes as minor. If Jerry can’t go, Richie Incognito gets the nod.

 

Center: Jake Grove

The “competition” between Grove and Joe Berger is fascinating to me, because Grove is the better player. In my opinion, the true purpose is to test the real difference between the injury-prone Grove and Berger vis-à-vis their respective salaries. That being said, it would be a major shock if Grove isn’t the starter on opening day.

 

Defensive Ends: Kendall Langford and Jared Odrick

To me, Odrick is the most pleasant surprise of training camp because I didn’t expect him capable of winning a starting job as a rookie. And while he is making his share of rookie mistakes, I like that he is a quick learner and very active. It will be a huge boost to the Dolphin D if Odrick can be a factor this season, especially with the loss of Phillip Merling and the move of Randy Starks from DE to NT. Thus far, the signs are encouraging.

 

Defensive Tackle: Randy Starks

Starks isn’t Jason Ferguson, but he has done well thus far as a three-technique tackle. This is quite different with how Ferguson was utilized these past two years, so apples-to-apples comparisons don’t truly apply. Still, Sparano likes what he sees thus far.

 

Outside Linebackers: Cameron Wake and Koa Misi

The Dolphins are going to give Misi a chance to play through his inexperience on the strongside. They hope his size and speed will go far in forgiving the rookie mistakes he will make. Just remember that Misi will have a target on him until he proves otherwise. Ditto Wake on the weakside. This is the biggest area of concern for the defense.

 

Inside Linebackers: Karlos Dansby and Channing Crowder

They should be among the best tandems of inside backers in the NFL.

 

Cornerbacks: Vontae Davis and Sean Smith

With Will Allen going out with a knee injury, the competition here is over.

 

Safeties: Yeremiah Bell and Chris Clemons

Bell is a Pro Bowler and will return to the strong safety job. Clemons has been praised by Sparano for making just one mental mistake in camp thus far. While he did miss a tackle against the Bucs, it was nothing to be alarmed about.

 

Specialists: Dan Carpenter, Brandon Fields, John Denney

All three went into camp unopposed.

 

The other 28 players will likely fall out accordingly:

 

QB: Chad Pennington, Pat White

I think the Dolphins will end up trading Tyler Thigpen because his value to the team is as a back-up QB, and they have Pennington to do that job. The Dolphins would be wrong to give up on White after just one season.

 

RB: Ricky Williams, Patrick Cobbs, Lex Hilliard

Last year’s reserve players will return.

 

WR: Davone Bess, Greg Camarillo, Patrick Turner, Roberto Wallace

I believe Sparano will keep six WRs. Wallace’s upside is just too good, so he will likely get the nod over Ryan Grice-Mullen. Mullen and Marlon Moore could be headed for the practice squad.

 

TE: David Martin, Joey Haynos

Martin will give Dolphins another dimension in the passing game, but he needs to get into playing shape fast.

 

OL: Nate Garner, Cory Proctor, Richie Incognito, Joe Berger

Garner is too versatile a player to send to injured reserve, even though they probably won’t get him back until mid-season.

 

DL: Ikaika Alama-Francis, Charles Grant, Lionel Dotson, Paul Soliai, Marques Douglas

Alama-Francis was just given a contract extension, so we know the Dolphins like him. Grant was a nice late offseason pick-up. Soliai showed well in the first preseason game; this needs to continue when the games start to count.

 

LBs: Austin Spitler, Erik Walden, Tim Dobbins, Charlie Anderson, Quentin Moses

A lot of interchangeable pieces here, all of whom figure to see heavy special teams duty.

 

DBs: Will Allen, Jason Allen, Nolan Carroll, Nate Ness, Tyrone Culver

The Allen boys are going to get a lot of snaps this year, though Will is slowed by a balky knee at the present time. Could this be the year the light comes on for Jason? Carroll has drawn rave reviews from the media wags. Ness denied two important passes against the Bucs.

 
     
   
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