All over the Miami Dolphins roster, multiple players are battling for position on the depth chart. No position demonstrates that fact than the mass of players trying to make it onto the roster as a wide receiver. Currently, the Dolphins have 11 wide outs, following the release of Chad Johnson following his arrest for domestic violence, that are all looking to secure their hold on one of the, probable, six slots the Dolphins will carry into the regular season.
Currently, the two receivers with the best grip on a guaranteed roster position are Davone Bess and Legedu Naanee. Those two made up two-thirds of the Miami starters during last Friday's preseason contest against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Johnson being the missing third). Both are said to be having dominating training camps, and should carry the momentum into the regular season.
Behind those two come nine other players, fighting for four slots. Julius Pruitt and Roberto Wallace seem to have the inside track to claim their spots, but, everyone thought that last week too, then the Dolphins released their first depth chart, with Wallace listed at the bottom of the wide receivers. Pruitt and Wallace were the first two to work with Bess and Naanee in the first team reps during yesterday's practice, and are thought to be impressing the coaches in camp.Head coach Joe Philbin, during his press conference after yesterday's practice, was asked about Wallace being so low on the depth chart last week.
"He's doing some good things," Philbin explained. "As I think we've said before, we're kind of, we're waiting for some guys to maybe take a hold of that position and really solidify their spot on the ball club. Again, some guys took advantage, (Julius) Pruitt had five or six catches, Roberto had a nice day. (B.J.) Cunningham didn't gain a lot of yards, but made a couple of nice catches. That's just some of the younger guys that stepped up and did some things. (Marlon) Moore didn't have a lot of opportunities, but we thought, watching the film, he did some good things as well. The depth chart, I told the guys whenever we released it last Monday or whatever day we did, not to put a whole lot of stock into the depth chart."
After passing Pruitt and Wallace, the group of wide receivers becomes even cloudier. The team currently has rookies B.J. Cunningham, Rishard Matthews, and Jeff Fuller, as well as veterans Clyde Gates, Brian Hartline, Marlon Moore, and Chris Hogan still trying to justify a position on the roster, with only two slots, potentially, available.
Hartline has been injured throughout training camp, trying to get over a calf injury. Heading into the season, he was projected as the starting wide receiver alongside Bess, but, without being able to get reps and prove himself in front of a new coaching staff, his position could be in jeopardy. Most likely he will hang on, but he could also be a candidate to land on injured reserve; especially if the NFL Players Association approves the change to the IR policy the league approved in the spring, which would allow teams to take one player off of IR during the season and bring them back onto the active roster.
Moore and Gates are in similar situations. They both have been with the team for multiple seasons (three and two, respectively), and should be ready to take the next step, but are not quite there yet. Both of them have high potential for success, and have talent, but they have not yet been able to put it all together to set themselves up to secure a roster position. One, or both, could be destined to be a roster cut in the next couple of weeks.
Hogan is a young player who has started to build some chemistry with the Miami quarterbacks, but, he is rough around the edges still. He could be released by the Dolphins, with the intentions to sign him to the practice squad.
The problem with that plan is, the Dolphins could be looking at multiple rookies as practice squad material. Cunningham, Matthews, and Fuller all could be potential practice squad members. Early in the preseason, Fuller has looked like the best of the rookies, while Cunningham has had a problem dropping the ball, and Matthews has not be sharp at receiver. Fuller also has the benefit of having been one of Ryan Tannehill's targets at Texas A&M, and if the rookie quarterback were to be named the starter, Fuller could be looked to give Tannehill some comfort on the active roster with a familiar receiver in the patterns.
Matthews, meanwhile, demonstrated a return capability during the Dolphins' preseason game against the Buccaneers. That alone could land him on the 53-man roster as well.
While the subtraction of Johnson from the equation should have cleared the receiver competition a little, it seemingly only made it murkier. It did open an additional roster position, but with 11 receivers looking for one of six positions, there is still a lot to be determined by the Dolphins coaches.
This Friday's game against the Carolina Panthers could help solve the puzzle. Then again, it could just mix up all the pieces again.