The Miami Dolphins are in North Carolina this morning, preparing for their second preseason game, this one against the Carolina Panthers. The game will give the coaches, and the fans, a chance to watch the players deep in the depth chart as they try to make the team. One of the most interesting positions to watch tonight is going to be the wide receivers, where 11 players are fighting for (most likely) just six positions on the roster.
The first two positions seem set in stone already. Legedu Naanee and Davone Bess have both had great training camps so far, and should be set to serve as the Dolphins starting wide receivers. After those two, however, the picture becomes blurry.
Julius Pruitt seems to be right behind the top two guys, and should be able to easily claim a roster position.
Which now leaves us with three depth chart positions for eight players. Marlon Moore, Jeff Fuller, Rishard Matthews, Roberto Wallace, Brian Hartline, B.J. Cunningham, Chris Hogan, and Clyde Gates all need to find a way to claim one of those positions, starting tonight.
Wallace has been one of the highlights of the Dolphins' receivers thus far in camp, but he is still buried on the depth chart. He should be able to claim a roster spot, but "Ankle Weights," as he was called by coaches on HBO's Hard Knocks: Training Camp with the Miami Dolphins, seems to have disappointed coaches thus far. The receiver who was often confused with Brandon Marshall had coaches hoping he was ready to step up and take the spot vacated by the trading of Marshall, but that clearly has not happened yet.
Moore is currently listed as a second string wide out behind Bess, but has been outshined by others throughout training camp. While he continues to be listed near the top of the chart, if he does not start performing to that level, he very quickly fall to the bottom, or even off, of the roster.
Hogan spent last season bouncing between practice squads, landing with the Dolphins late in the season. In the last week, he has seen his popularity rise among fans, and the media, after his "7-Eleven" nickname was revealed on this past episode of Hard Knocks. Hogan clearly needs to perform on the field in the next few weeks if he wants to make the roster - but for at least this week, he may be the biggest name among the Dolphins' receivers.
Clyde Gates seems to want to make it as hard on himself as he can. Gates has all the speed a coaching staff could want in a receiver, but that's about the extent of what he is bringing to the table. If he does not start being able to run routes correctly, and does not hang on to the ball better, Gates will not remain a Dolphins player in 2012.
Hartline is the hardest of the veteran wide outs to place on the roster. He spent all of training camp rehabbing a calf injury, and he still has not been cleared to practice. Coming into minicamps and training camp, Hartline was thought the be the guy most likely to replace Brandon Marshall as the top receiver for the team. Instead, he's been buried on the depth chart, and could be in danger of losing his spot on the roster. If he is not cleared to practice soon, look for Hartline to end up on injured reserve.
The group of rookies are all interesting. Each one brings something unique, but none of them seem locked in to the roster yet. Fuller comes to the Dolphins knowing the offense from his time under then Texas A&M head coach and current Dolphins offensive coordinator Mike Sherman, but he's still raw and needs time to develop. Matthews has shown an ability to be a return man, but has disappeared when on the field as a receiver. Cunningham is running routes well, but has had a problem with drops throughout training camp.
Tonight's game could go a long way to solidifying the receiving corps. Currently, my projection for the eleven wide receivers looks like:
- 53-man roster: Bess, Naanee, Wallace, Pruitt, Hartline, Hogan
- Practice Squad: Fuller, Cunningham
- Released: Gates, Moore, Matthews
The final compeition, I believe, will come down to Gates, Moore, and Hogan. With all the hype surrounding Moore this week, I will bump him up to the 53-man roster. As we discussed in the Phinsider Podcast last night, I really could see the Dolphins keeping seven wide receivers, which I think is Gates' spot. I think that's really the only way the Dolphins keep him this year. Matthews, meanwhile, is not going to hold a roster spot simply to add a kick returner, when the Dolphins can use players like Reggie Bush, Bess, or Lamar Miller to fill that role.
It will be interesting tonight to watch these elevel guys try to claim their position on the team. We will see how tonight's game changes my projection of the 53-man roster, and these wide receiver spots. Can someone do enough to jump onto the roster? Will someone slide right off the depth chart?
Only a few more hours until we get to see what happens.