In less than a fortnight, the Miami Dolphins will commence with training camp ending the summer doldrums. There is a great deal of excitement surrounding this year’s team with a promising second year quarterback and an aggressive approach to free agency and the draft, bringing in an influx of new talent. Unlike previous seasons, there seems to be few glaring needs with the roster with quality starters and good depth at just about every position. With that in mind, let’s take a look at an early projection at what the final 53-man roster may look like when training camp is over.
Of course there seems to be a couple of players every year who we expect to play at a higher level, but struggle in camp. Likewise there are fringe players that standout in camp unexpectedly earning a roster spot, and even considerable playing time. But until that happens, here are the current favorites to make the team. Starters will be denoted with (S).
SPECIAL TEAMS (3 SPOTS)
Kicker: Caleb Sturgis
Punter: Brandon Fields
Long Snapper: John Denney
Ok, I started with the easiest set to deal with. There will be three guaranteed roster spots for specialists. Fields and Denney are no-brainer picks as they are Pro-Bowl caliber players at punter and long snapper respectively. The only question is whether Sturgis will supplant Carpenter at the kicker position. Unless Sturgis completely stinks this camp, based on the fact Sturgis was a fifth round pick and Carpenter has a massive contract (for a kicker), Sturgis should get the roster spot and the team can rid itself of the Carpenter contract.
Quarterback: Ryan Tannehill (S), Matt Moore, Pat Devlin (3)
No questions here as Tannehill is the starter, Moore is the backup, and Devlin is the third string, developmental QB. If Devlin steps up big time in camp and shows he can handle the backup spot adequately AND another team needs a QB due to injury, incompetence, or whatever, the team may trade Moore.
Running Back: Lamar Miller(S), Daniel Thomas, Mike Gillislee (3)
Most fans think Daniel Thomas is as good as gone. I, however, disagree with that sentiment. Yes, Thomas has been somewhat of a disappointment since the team traded up to get him in 2010. But injuries have derailed his career somewhat. I think the light has finally come on for Thomas and he will finally show the promise for which he was drafted. And add in the fact that he is the ONLY proven back on the roster in terms of pass protection. It is said that Miller has improved in that area and Gillislee was strong in that area in college. But those guys are unproven in that regard, and until they can prove it, Thomas will get the nod. Plus most teams carry 3 to 4 running backs anyway. Unless some of the other backs on the roster can really standout in camp and unseat Thomas from the roster, fans should accept that Thomas will be back. As for the others, Miller is the starter unless someone takes the spot away from him. I doubt that will happen as I believe Miller has the superior talent. Gillislee will make the team and will get worked in the rotation.
Fullback*: Lane(S), Clay (2)
I put an asterisk by this position because a lot hinges on whether or not the team signs Vonta Leach. It appears that the Dolphins are the favorite to land Leach and if so, he will be the starter. But as of right now, Lane is the starter. Clay is listed as a TE or H-back, but the thought of him being an in-line TE should end. His best fit on this team is at FB. He’s not much of a lead blocker on running plays, but can be a threat as a receiver and downfield blocker in the passing game. He is coming off a knee injury though, so he could be limited by that in camp.
Wide Receiver: Wallace (S), Hartline (S), Gibson, Matthews, Binns, Thigpen (6)
Wallace and Hartline are the unquestioned starters and Gibson will start out as the third/slot WR. Matthews has improved the most of all the WRs according to the players and Binns has flashed in minicamps. Both of those players have experience on special teams and on offense. They appear to be locks for the roster at this point. Thigpen is technically a running back, but I doubt he gets many touches as an actual running back. Thigpen was used in the slot some last season and will see time there as well. I listed him in the WR section for that reason. Plus, Thigpen is the primary return specialist.
Tight End: Keller (S), Sims, Egnew (3)
Like the WR position, not many questions here. Keller will start and Sims should be the second TE due to his blocking prowess. Egnew has shown some development and may be finally ‘getting it’. He will likely see more playing time. Given that Clay has some experience at TE, the team may only keep 3 TEs ‘listed’ on the roster.
Offensive Line: Martin (S), Incognito (S), Pouncey (S), Louis (S), Clabo (S), Garner, Samuda, Thomas (8)
Not many questions here at least in terms of who will start. The team has shown faith in second year tackle Jonathan Martin to become the left tackle of the future. The only real question could be at RG, but as it stands right now, Jerry has the starting experience, Lance Louis is still rehabbing from a knee injury, and the coaches want rookie Dallas Thomas to play on the left side. But if Louis is healthy, he should beat out Jerry for a starting spot. Or the coaches may recant and play Thomas at RG. If that happens, Jerry may be traded or cut. In my opinion, Jerry will have to play really well in camp to make the team this year. Garner and Thomas provide good depth as they can play multiple positions. Samuda was a standout UDFA last season and is the backup center. Don’t be surprised if the Dolphins try to pick up another offensive lineman after final cut-down day though.
Defensive Tackle: Starks (S), Soliai (S), Randall, Martin (4)
The only real question here is if Odrick takes over a starting spot in camp. Right now, the defensive tackle position is set with starters and reserves.
Defensive End: Wake (S), Odrick (S), Jordan, Vernon, Shelby (5)
Wake is a no-brainer. Odrick gets the starting nod now because he has experience and Jordan has neither signed with the team, nor has he been able to participate due to rehab for his shoulder. Things can be shaken up if Odrick moves inside though. And if Jordan develops quickly enough, he can supplant Odrick.
Linebacker: Ellerbe (S), Wheeler (S), Misi (S), Spitler, Jenkins, Trusnik (6)
Not many questions here. Ellerbe and Wheeler will start. Misi will be a starter, unless rookie Jenkins can take his place (and he just might). Spitler and Trusnik are decent reserve players and provide depth and quality special teams play.
Cornerback: Grimes (S), Marshall (S), Carroll, Taylor, Davis, Wilson (6)
Will the Dolphins carry 6 CBs on the roster? Perhaps. But seeing as how they did everything short of giving me a call for a tryout last season to add CBs, they may not take a chance this season. Grimes is the unquestioned #1 CB based on minicamp performance and that shouldn’t change. Marshall is the other starter right now, but Carroll or the rookies could step up and win the spot. Taylor and Davis will get a roster spot simply based on draft status. Carroll has starting experience and is ahead of the rookies right now. Since Marshall has experience at safety and nickel, they could use a variety of coverages which would allow Carroll to see more playing time. Wilson is listed here because the team used him as the first team nickel CB in minicamps. But expect him to see more time at safety than at CB. Patterson will have to beat out Marshall or Carroll to stay on the roster, which he may do. He has experience both outside and at nickel. IMO, it’s either Carroll or Patterson for the final spot. But based on Patterson high cap number, he’ll have to really outshine Carroll or Marshall to make it worthwhile for the team to keep him.
Free Safety: Clemons (S), McCray (2)
Not too much in the way of questions here. Clemons will enter camp as the starter. McCray is a player that the team is high on, but he’ll have to really outshine Clemons in order to take away the starting spot.
Strong Safety: R. Jones (S), D. Jones (2)
Reshad Jones had a breakout season in 2012 and is one of the better safeties in the NFL right now. He will look to improve on a great season and enter into ‘elite’ status. Don Jones is a seventh round rookie that the team wanted to move to slot CB, but was better fit as a safety. He showed some flashes at minicamps and barring the emergence of another player, should win the backup SS spot.
Like most Dolphins fans, I'm especially excited to see this year's iteration of the team. The team has more talent and is loaded with promise. Let's hope this group of 53 players can deliver on that promise.