Miami Dolphins wide receiver Jeff Fuller's performance this week is just one of many that could clarify the wide out postion battle for the Dolphins. Then again, it could muddy it up as well.
The Miami Dolphins opened training camp this year with numerous position battle possibilities. The safety position battle never materialized, as Reshad Jones and Chris Clemons settled into the starters roles and never gave them up. Cornerback became a surprise battle as Vontae Davis fell down the depth chart. The quarterback battle was ended this week with the naming of Ryan Tannehill as the team's quarterback.
Which really leaves only two position battles still to be solved, and only one of those can get any clarity this week. The right guard position, where the team has been using Artis Hicks, but seems like they want to find someone else to fill that role, and the mess at wide receiver are all that really still has to be decided on this team. Hicks is injured and likely not to play Friday night, meaning shunned guard John Jerry could be starting tomorrow night. Then there are the receivers. There are 11 wide outs currently on the team's roster, with only six positions to hold down on the 53-man roster.
Already on the roster.
There are two wide receivers right now guaranteed to make the final cut: Davone Bess and Legedu Naanee. Those two have been clearly the top two wide outs the team have through training camp, and will be the starters when the season begins.
Should make the roster.
Two more positions should be held by Julius Pruitt and Brian Hartline. Pruitt has become a standout on special teams, working as a gunner on punt coverage. He should be able to make it onto the roster in that capacity alone, but he has also been a productive wide receiver during training camp, and should be able to help the team that way as well.
Hartline, meanwhile, is starting to finally come back from the calf injury that has sidelined him all preseason. He was limited in practice yesterday, but he was out there working. It will be a little while before he's back up to strength and football shape, but he should be assured of a roster position. Ultimately, he should slide in as the team's third wide receiver, if he does not challenge Naanee for starting duty.
The final two.
With four positions gone, and seven players remaining, there will be a lot of competition for the final two slots on the roster. Really, however, it should come down to Clyde Gates, Roberto Wallace, Chris Hogan, or Marlon Moore. Gates has great speed, but has not been able to translate that into success as a receiver. Between route running and hanging on to the ball, Gates could have trouble justifying his position on the roster this year.
Wallace has been one of the highlights of the Dolphins passing game this preseason, but continues to be buried on the depth chart. He most likely will take one of these two positions, but the coaches seem disappointed that it's even in question. Hopes had been that Wallace would be able to step up and become the guy this year, but it does not appear he is quite ready yet.
Hogan is an interesting case. He has become more of a fan favorite since episode two of HBO's Hard Knocks: Training Camp with the Miami Dolphins announced his "7-Eleven" nickname. He could make the roster, but he is a boarderline guy. If he plays well this week, he could claim the spot.
Moore is another difficult player to place. His career has very much mirrored that of Wallace up until now, but Wallace seems to have taken the next step and Moore hasn't. He still could make the roster, simply based on his potential, but it could be just as likely that the team cut him because he has not lived up to that potential.
Practice Squad Material.
There are three remaining wide receivers who could be practice squad material: Jeff Fuller, B.J. Cunningham, and Rishard Matthews. Fuller has an outside chance to make the 53-man roster, looking like the best of the rookie wide receivers. He also has chemistry with Tannehill already, playing with him at Texas A&M. A good showing tomorrow night could push Fuller off of the practice squad and onto the roster - though he would have to play better than Hogan, who would get the first shot at the roster between the two.
Cunningham struggled early this preseason, but seems to be coming on stronger now. His biggest problem so far is clearly drops, but it's something he can work on. He is probably destined for the practice squad for now, giving him more time to develop, but an injury or quick development during the season could see Cunningham activated at some point.
Matthews is another difficult one to place. He has proven he can return kicks, and had a decent showing with third string quarterback Pat Devlin last week, but it may not be enough to keep him around. If Fuller were to make the 53-man roster, Matthews, a seventh round pick back in April, could slide onto the practice squad, but I'm not sure there is room for him on the full roster right now. A good performance this week could change that, but it would also muddy up the water ahead of Monday's first round of cuts.
This Friday could go a long way to figuring out the wide receivers. With the starting offense expected to be in the game for the first three quarters, there are plenty of chances for all eleven wide outs to rotate in and out of the game. That's also plenty of time for someone to step up and take control of the depth chart.
In Tuesday's 53-man roster projection, Bess, Naanee, Wallace, Hartline, Pruitt, and Fuller were all predicted to make the roster. Obviously, that could, and will, all change after the third preseason game.
Theoretically, Friday night's game against the Atlanta Falcons should be able to clarify the wide outs. But, it could confuse things just as easily. This wide receiver corps is just dying for someone to step up and become the go-to-guy for the offense, especially out of the mess behind Bess and Naanee.