Believe it or not, we are less than three weeks away from week one of the NFL season. Training camp will soon be winding down for the Dolphins and we're halfway through their preseason schedule. So what better time than now to do a mid-point review of what we've seen from the Dolphins in the preseason?
What I've decided to do is simply list which players have made the biggest positive impression on me during the preseason as well as those who have made little or no impression on me - with a special emphasis on those players who are currently on the proverbial "roster bubble." Of course, this list is far from comprehensive, which is where all of you come in. Be sure to tell us your thoughts in the comments below.
THREE WHO HAVE MADE POSITIVE IMPRESSION
RB Lex Hilliard - Entering camp, there wasn't much thought given to the Dolphins keeping four halfbacks on their final 53-man roster. But Lex Hilliard has suddenly put that thought into his coaches' heads and has made a strong case to make this football team. We talked yesterday about the "numbers game" and how keeping four running backs would affect how the final roster is assembled. But this is something the coaching staff is really going to have to discuss. After all, this regime is not in the business of waiving good football players. If Hilliard is as promising as he might be (more as a future complimentary back - not a feature back), you don't just let go of him. His 18 carry, 94 yard stat line is impressive - but it has been produced against opposing teams' 2nd and 3rd string defenses. And if you take away his longest run in each of the two preseason games, Hilliard is averaging just 2.75 yards per carry on those other 16 rushing attempts. But he's shown good quickness and explosion through the hole for a 240 pound back. And Tony Sparano did praise his special teams work in both games. That's how he can cement his roster spot - by going out and proving he can be a special teams contributor on gameday. It'd also be nice to see him get a few carries against a first-team defense.
RG Donald Thomas - The right guard position was a big question mark entering camp. Donald Thomas was coming off of a season-ending foot injury entering the offseason and then injured his chest while working out during the offseason. He started off camp with rehab work and was slowly implemented back into the offensive line rotation. But he has been very impressive when he has been on the field during the preseason. In the opener, despite a lackluster performance by the first-team offensive line as a whole, Thomas had a solid game - regularly "pancaking" his man. Last week, Thomas played even better. He won the majority of his one-on-one blocks and even showed the quickness to get out and pull - making a key block on Hilliard's 39 yard TD run. The man is clearly strong and powerful and, most importantly, he finishes his blocks. The starting right guard spot is officially all his. Now he just needs to stay healthy.
OLB Quentin Moses - Before training camp started, I really didn't think Quentin Moses had any shot to make this final roster. But Matt Roth's mysterious groin injury has allowed Moses to get more reps in practice and extended looks during the preseason. He's made the most of these opportunities. I've noticed Moses getting pressure on the quarterback on more than one occasion. He hasn't picked up a sack yet, but quarterback hurries are just as valuable. I've noticed that the 260 pound linebacker looks to have a quicker first step. And remember, he's a guy with a lot of talent. He was a third-round pick coming out of Georgia. And entering that season for UGA, there were rumblings that Moses could be a late first or early second round selection. But now it seems as though the game is finally slowing down for him - and he's making plays. He looks strong at the point of attack, too, which is very important because it allows him to set the edge on runs his direction (much like Matt Roth was good at doing last season). I don't think his roster spot is a lock by any means, but he went from having little chance (at least in my mind) to being right in the mix for one of the OLB spots.
Other Candidates - Cameron Wake, John Nalbone, Sean Smith, Nathan Jones, Paul Soliai, Reggie Torbor
THREE WHO HAVE MADE LITTLE OR NO IMPRESSION
WR Anthony Armstrong - Many fans were jumping aboard the Anthony Armstrong bandwagon during the offseason as we continually read reports of Armstrong beating Miami's corners deep for big plays during OTAs and minicamp. But the corners he regularly dominated were guys who were either cut (Eric Green) or will be cut (Will Billingsley). During training camp, Armstrong has been relatively quiet. And in the preseason, Armstrong has been completely non-existent. He doesn't have a reception. He's dropped two passes. And in his one kickoff return, he only gained 20 yards. That's not how a player like Armstrong is going to make this team. Considering he can't really contribute on coverage units because he weighs 185 pounds soaking wet, he needed to really make a name for himself as a receiver. But he's failed to do so and I don't expect him to stick once it's time for final cuts.
TE Joey Haynos - With the release of Ernest Wilford, the battle for the third tight end spot (if the Dolphins keep three) is between Haynos and rookie John Nalbone. Haynos, though, has failed to get my attention at all. He has great size (6'8, 270) but hasn't been a factor at all during the preseason. But while no passes have come his way - which isn't exactly his fault, making it hard to blame him - I've been underwhelmed with his blocking skills. From what I've noticed during games, Nalbone is the better blocker. And whichever TE is kept as the third one will have to be able to block - especially since David Martin isn't exactly a reliable blocker, either. In my opinion, Haynos is losing the battle to Nalbone and will have to step up if he hopes to stick.
DE Phillip Merling - Merling entered training camp working as a starter opposite Kendall Langford. But since then, he's fallen back to the second unit while Tony McDaniel and Randy Starks have gotten reps with the first team. And it's been Starks, not Merling, who has gotten the majority of the first-team reps during the preseason. Merling isn't exactly known for being a great practice player, either. But you can almost look beyond that if the player in question performs on gameday. Thus far through two preseason games, I haven't seen any sense of urgency from the second-year defensive end. Last season, Merling came on strong late in the year. So here's to hoping he's just a slow starter.
Other Candidates - Lionel Dotson, Erik Walden, Brandon London, Gibril Wilson, Pat White