To the casual football fan, the final game of the preseason probably doesn't mean much. After all, it's typically a game where starters play very little - if they play at all. For the most part, it's simply a game to help the coaching staff evaluate the very bottom of the roster and determine who the final handful of roster spots go to.
But if you're like me, then you are looking forward to watching some of these final roster battles play out tonight on the field in Dallas. Of course, after last week's disappointing performance by basically the entire Dolphins' team, there is another reason to watch tonight's game. That's where we will start off.
-The starters will see extended action tonight. Tony Sparano made that clear this week when he talked about how his football team "stunk" against the Falcons a week ago. But nobody - not even Sparano - knows how much action the starters will play (and if he does know, he isn't telling).
Though it's going to be important for the starters on both sides of the ball to perform much better tonight than they did a week ago, we should also be careful not to read too much into it. It's expected that most of Dallas' starters will not play much - if at all - tonight. Still, it would be nice to see a rhythm out of the first-team offense and some consistent pressure on the quarterback out of the first-team defense - especially considering that the Cowboys' offensive line has struggled mightily this preseason.
-The receiver competition comes to an end tonight. We know who the top three receivers are going to be - there's nothing to sort out there. But the final two spots remain open, though we can probably guess which two are the favorites to make the final 53.
Marlon Moore has made a steady ascension from undrafted free agent to likely number four receiver. Sparano, when asked about Moore, used a key word to show how far Moore has come. The word? "Consistent." That's how Sparano described the young receiver. And that tells me all I need to know. I think Moore is now a lock to make this team - meaning the final spot is between Patrick Turner and Roberto Wallace. Turner probably has the edge. But what if Wallace was to have a big game tonight? Could he steal that final receiver spot?
-Can the underdog lock up the final roster spot at inside linebacker? With Channing Crowder's health an obvious concern, the Dolphins have no choice but to carry four inside linebackers. Yes, I know the coaches have been working Charlie Anderson on the inside as well. But I can't see them feeling comfortable enough with Anderson being the lone backup inside backer until Crowder is fully healthy.
This roster spot was probably going to go to rookie A.J. Edds before he suffered a torn ACL during the first week of camp. His injury was supposed to open the door for either 2009 draft pick J.D. Folsom or 2010 seventh rounder Austin Spitler. But undrafted rookie Micah Johnson was signed just days after A.J.'s injury and he has outperformed both of the two Dolphin draft picks. He's shown a nose for the ball and has set himself apart from the competition. One more impressive showing out of Johnson tonight could be all he needs to make this team - an impressive feat for sure.
-Lots of "bubble players" will have one more chance to make a case for a roster spot. In my opinion, other than the previously mentioned WR and ILB positions, three other positions remain in question. Backup tackles Lydon Murtha and Andrew Gardner have both been unimpressive this preseason. If both struggle again tonight, the Dolphins could look to the waiver wire to find their backup tackle. Guard Cory Procter could also use a strong showing to lock up the roster spot now available along the interior line due to Nate Garner's season-ending injury.
Defensively, there are still tough decisions to be made along the line and in the secondary. How many defensive linemen will the Dolphins want to keep? Guys like Lionel Dotson, Ryan Baker, and even Charles Grant (who has played well but is owed more money than the others) might need strong showings to crack the final 53. Meanwhile, there's a good chance the Dolphins will keep six cornerbacks - at least until Will Allen is healthy enough to play. With Vontae Davis, Sean Smith, and Nolan Carroll essentially locks to make the team (along with Will, of course) two spots might still be up for grabs. Benny Sapp was acquired from Minnesota last week and probably has an inside track to one of those spots. The other favorite is probably Jason Allen, who is one of the best special teams players on the team. But Nate Ness has done enough to warrant serious consideration. However, he's probably still on the outside looking in and could really use one more solid performance if he wants to stick past the weekend.
Tonight's game should be fun. Be sure to come on by for our live game thread.