Nolan Carroll has the inside track for the kick returner job after a solid showing on Saturday night.
We're now halfway through the preseason and just over two weeks away from the start of the regular season. For some players on this Dolphins' roster, it's getting late. The waiving of Kory Sperry, Tristan Davis, and Travis Ivey just emphasizes this point. There's a 53 man roster that needs to be compiled and there are many players for whom it's starting to get late very quickly.
The active roster, per MiamiDolphins.com, is at 76 players. The team has to get down to 75 by August 31 - exactly one week away - and down to 53 by September 4. With that in mind, let's take a look at how some of the key roster battles are shaping up.
This is probably the most critical battle that's still going. Joe Berger worked with the starters for much of the past two weeks while Jake Grove battled through a bone bruise to his leg. On Saturday night, Berger worked with the starting offense for most of the first half - though Grove also saw some time with that first-teamers. Today at practice, it was Grove who was lined up with the starters during the 30 minutes of practice that was open to the media. This is a battle that Tony Sparano admits needs to be decided sooner rather than later. But it's also likely going to come down to the wire. Grove looked more physical on Saturday and that's exactly what Sparano likes. It's going to be telling when we see which of these two get the first crack at playing with the starting offense on Friday night against Atlanta.
With the season-ending injury Kory Sheets and Monday's release of Tristan Davis, this battle is now a two horse race. Patrick Cobbs is a favorite of Sparano's because of the many jobs he can do. But kick returner is not his best. He's reliable and safe. But he's not an explosive play-maker. Carroll has never really worked as a primary return man in his football career. He returned ten kickoffs in college at Maryland but none since 2007. However, Carroll showed good vision and good burst on Saturday night, averaging 25 yards per kick return - including a long of 36 yards. Cobbs, meanwhile, averaged just 22.6 yards per return in '09 before suffering his season-ending injury, with a long of just 39 yards. This is likely Carroll's job to lose.
Four defensive linemen are locks to make this team - defensive ends Kendall Langford and Jared Odrick as well as nose tackles Randy Starks and Paul Soliai. The question becomes how many defensive linemen the Dolphins plan to keep. It's likely they will settle on at least seven but no more than eight. That means as many as two above will not make the cut when September 4 rolls around. Of those above, McDaniel and Grant have played the best this preseason. Dotson has also flashed - but mostly against the opponents' third stringers. The coaches reportedly like Bakers versatility to play end or nose. But I've been unimpressed with the film he's put together this preseason. I'm thinking Baker is a prime candidate for the practice squad, though. Dotson could be the odd man out here.
The top four wide receivers are set. But the battle to be the fifth receiver is very much ongoing. Patrick Turner had his big play of the preseason back in game one, working as the slot receiver and making a catch over the middle resulting in a 34 yard gain. Marlon Moore matched him later that game, making a great adjustment to a pass from Tyler Thigpen for a 34 yard gain. Both ended with 44 yards on 2 receptions. But it was Turner who disappeared in game two on Saturday, only making one catch for seven. Moore, meanwhile, made a couple more plays and may be inching very close to taking away the roster spot many assumed would be Turner's. Wallace, meanwhile, might possess the best combination of size and speed but is raw and has been rather quiet when the bullets have been live.
This position is probably the biggest mess right now in terms of who makes the team and who gets handed the pink slip. We know the guys who are locks - Jake Long, Vernon Carey, John Jerry, Richie Incognito, Donald Thomas, Joe Berger, and Jake Grove. That's seven right there. Nate Garner's recovery from preseason foot surgery will be a big factor here. He could be out until early October - and that's a long time to keep an injured backup on the active roster. But he's so valuable because he can play so many positions that I believe he starts the year on the roster regardless of his health rather than placing him on Injured Reserve and ending his season. That means there will be, at most, two roster spots free for the guys above. One will go to Murtha or Gardner even though neither has looked good this preseason. That's because until Garner can play, the Dolphins need a backup tackle. The other spot, if there is one, will come down to Procter or the recently signed Randy Thomas. Thomas is the experienced vet who used to be among the best in the league. But he's coming back from a nasty torn triceps injury. Procter comes over from Dallas but hasn't stood out at all this preseason.