The second week of the NFL Preseason is underway, with the Miami Dolphins and Houston Texans slated to face off tonight. Both teams will use this game to give their starters a little more playing time, as well as a continued evaluation of the depth of the roster. Which players will shine, and which will shrink under the lights of an NFL game? Which players will claim a roster position? Which could still work their way into the starting lineup?
For the Dolphins, there are several key position battles still raging heading into the team's third game in the exhibition season.
Would a breakdown of position battles around the Miami Dolphins in 2013 start anywhere but the offensive line? The coaches seem to have locked down four of the five starting offensive linemen, with Richie Incognito appearing to be set at left guard. However, there is still a hole at right guard. John Jerry, who returned to practice this week after rehabbing a knee injury, is the most likely to end up with the slot, but, since he is not yet ready to play in a game, and the injury to Nate Garner this week, Josh Samuda will start at the position for the second straight week. Will he improve on the poor showing he had against the Jacksonville Jaguars? Either way, he could clear up the battle tonight. If he plays well, he may put himself in position to keep the job. If he he again struggles, the position may be handed to Jerry on a silver platter.
The Dolphins are currently carrying a combined seven fullbacks and tight ends. They will likely end up with four. But which four, and how will they be split? Dustin Keller is clearly safe, and Charles Clay appears to be on the roster as well. Dion Sims has been impressive in training camp, and, with his draft status, he should have the third slot. That means Jorvorskie Lane, Evan Rodriguez, Michael Egnew, and Kyle Miller are all looking to claim what is likely one position. How they rotate into the game (minus Miller, who will likely miss the game due to injury) and where they play on special teams could give an idea who is winning the fight for that position.
How many receivers make the roster and who can claim those positions? Mike Wallace, Brian Hartline, and Brandon Gibson have the top three positions locked down. After that, Rishard Matthews appears to be the favorite for the fourth slot. Can he hold on to that? Chad Bumphis, Brian Tyms, Kenny Stafford, Marvin McNutt, Jeff Fuller, Keenan Davis, Julius Pruitt, and Andrell Smith are all trying to be impressive enough to claim the fifth slot. Is there a sixth? And, how does running back/receiver/kick returner Marcus Thigpen fit into the group?
This is one of the hardest positions to project for the Dolphins. There are a lot of players with potential behind the Dolphins' starting three (Dannell Ellerbe, Philip Wheeler, and Koa Misi), but how many will Miami keep and who will stand out? Jonathan Freeny and Lee Robinson have been impressive in training camp, Austin Spitler and Jason Trusnik are known commodities and hard workers on special teams, Jelani Jenkins has his draft status this year, Josh Kaddu has draft status from last year, and David Hinds, Michael Clay, and Alonzo Highsmith are all highly regarded undrafted free agents. Like the fullback/tight end battle, how the linebackers enter the game behind the starters, and who is playing where on special teams, could be the key to this battle.
The defensive line is fat with talent at this point. Cameron Wake, Olivier Vernon, Paul Soliai, Jared Odrick, Randy Starks, and Dion Jordan all automatically claim a spot. That leaves two, or possibly three, positions to keep some combination of Vaughn Martin, Derrick Shelby, Kheeston Randall, A.J. Francis, Tracy Robertson, Tristan Okpalaugo, Emeka Onyenekwu, and Chris Burnette. There are some tough decisions coming along the defensive line, and the coaches are likely hoping some of these guys distance themselves from the pack with a strong performance tonight.
There are, of course, other battles to watch tonight, like the reserve running backs and cornerbacks, but these five are probably the most interesting, and the most important as coaches begin working out the 75- and 53-man roster projections. Players will have tonight's game against the Texans, and, probably less than a half against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, with the starters likely playing into the third quarter, to make an impression on the coaches.
The NFL mandates all teams reduce rosters to 75-players by 4pm ET on August 27. The 53-man roster limit is effective at 6pm ET on August 31.