The Dolphins must get their roster down to 53 players by Saturday afternoon. In between now and then, the players have just one final opportunity to make their own particular cases - their preseason finale in New Orleans on Thursday night. For some, it will be a final chance to prove they should be starting. For others, it will be one last opportunity to prove to the coaches and front office that they deserve roster spots.
Here are some of the final battles to keep in the back of your minds as you watch Thursday's finale:
Greg Camarillo vs Davone Bess vs Brian Hartline
Barring something unforeseen, all three of these receivers will make the team. However, only one can start opposite of Ted Ginn on September 13 when the Dolphins travel to Atlanta. Bess worked with the first-team offense for much of the early parts of camp and started to open the preseason. But Brian Hartline has spent much of his time working with the starters since the week before the second preseason game and hasn't looked back - starting both of the last two preseason games. Hartline right now leads the Dolphins in receiving yards and yards per reception during the preseason. He also most closely fits the mold of what Tony Sparano wants out of the starting receiver opposite of Teddy - a guy who can pick up chunks of yardage at a time. Meanwhile, Camarillo continues to linger in the background as he gets closer and closer to being 100%. It was clear to me that he's still not physically back to where he was at before his knee injury when we saw him chugging down field last game for his 50+ yard catch and run. However, Camarillo did get some first-team reps on Tuesday.
I still think that Hartline is probably the favorite right now to start with Bess working as the team's primary slot receiver - his ideal position, to be honest. But a big game from Camarillo on Thursday night and/or a rough game for Hartline could change how the starting lineup looks in Atlanta in less than two weeks.
Lex Hilliard vs Brandon London
I've looked at the roster a number of ways and just don't see how it's possible that the Dolphins can keep both of these guys on the 53-man roster. A fourth halfback and a sixth receiver are both luxuries and there's no room on this team for two luxury players like that. I think it'll be either one or the other (if any) and the deciding factor could be special teams.
Hilliard leads all Miami backs with 126 yards rushing and a 4.3 ypc average. He opened a lot of eyes in the team's second preseason game when he showed a very nice burst through the hole on his 39 yard TD run against Carolina. It's rare you see a 240 pound power back with that kind of acceleration. But he has put the ball on the ground two times in just 29 carries, which is unacceptable. Meanwhile, London has just 2 catches for 22 yards in the preseason. However, the 6'4 receiver has a lot of physical talent and has at least proven he can make a big play in a regular season game (yes, I'm talking about his huge 3rd down catch against the Jets in the regular season finale last year). That's more than you can say about Hilliard. But is one big reception and a ton of upside enough to stick on the roster? And at what point does potential turn into disappointment?
Like I said, though, this battle could come down to special teams. London was excellent on the coverage unit last season. Hilliard, though, has put together a solid preseason special teams performance. Tony Sparano even admitted so last week when speaking to the media.
Another thing to keep in mind is the practice squad. Lex Hilliard is eligible to go on Miami's practice squad. But he'd first have to make it through waivers without any other team signing him - which is no safe bet. On the other hand, London is not eligible for the practice squad because he dressed for 14 games last season with the Dolphins. So the Dolphins would have to cut their ties with Brandon if they choose not to keep him on the final 53-man roster. Because of that, I'd leaning more towards the Dolphins keeping Brandon around and attempting to sneak Hilliard through to the practice squad. But I'm far from confident in that prediction right now.
John Nalbone vs Joey Haynos
I'm fairly confident that the Dolphins will indeed keep three tight ends on their roster. Dan Henning loves using two tight end sets and wouldn't be able to if one of the two went down to injury in the middle of the game. While neither of these two players have set themselves apart from the other, I've been impressed with how well John Nalbone has blocked. He also has shown improved hands in camp following a very poor showing at OTAs and minicamps earlier in the summer. However, he's still raw and Joey Haynos has been in the system longer. You also can't duplicate Joey's size (6'8, 270). It was believed that this regime really liked Haynos. But why then did the Dolphins spend a fifth round pick on the rookie TE from Monmouth?
A possible solution here could be to keep Haynos on the team and try slipping Nalbone through waivers. After all, he's only a tight end and nobody poaches tight ends. Wrong - the Dolphins did that very thing to Green Bay last year by poaching Haynos off of their practice squad. And about a third of the league worked out Nalbone prior to the draft. If the Dolphins waive him and try to slip him by, they could lose him. On the other hand, Haynos is not eligible for Miami's practice squad. So keeping Nalbone would mean saying goodbye to Haynos.
I expect both of these guys to get a lot of playing time on Thursday night to give the coaches some good film to review on Friday as they make their decision. But you all know me - I'm taking Nalbone here.
Now for some quick hits on different roster possibilities:
Play who was once a long shot and is now a virtual lock: Quentin Moses
Did anybody see this coming? Sure, Jason Taylor benefited a lot from Matt Roth's injury because he's now entrenched as the starter. But Moses was expected by many to be out of a job in a few days when camp began. But with solid play both in practice and in games, he's secured his roster spot as the primary backup strong-side linebacker. He's done an excellent job of creating pressure as well as setting the edge. If I'm Matt Roth, I'm expecting a huge "thank you" card from Moses in the coming week.
Possible surprise cut: Charlie Anderson
With Cameron Wake taking over the role of primary reserve pass-rusher, Anderson will see less playing time. And his dumb mistake last week against Tampa on special teams isn't going to help his cause, either. He's got a hefty 2009 price tag and is yet to live up to his contract. While I don't think Anderson will definitely be cut, I also wouldn't be surprised to see him receive a pink slip - especially if he makes any more bonehead plays on Thursday night.
Possible sleeper to make the team: Courtney Bryan
Keeping five safeties is rare. But Bryan is a solid special teams contributor who isn't a total liability in coverage like other teams' backup safeties usually are. He's got good instincts and is a hard worker - the kind of player this regime loves. And you never know...