The Miami Dolphins return to the practice field today after an off day on Sunday, with their first preseason game of the year coming up in just a few days. As the team prepares to face the Atlanta Falcons Friday night, one of the top stories of this week, and of the game, will be the players trying to claim a roster spot by impressing the coaching staff.
Those players are not regulated to just rookies trying to carve out a niche, but include some veterans trying to prove they are still a value added to the roster. What players seem to be on the bubble at this point, in danger of being released when roster cuts start later this month? We provide five possible answers.
1 - Daniel Thomas, running back - Thomas is clearly in a fight for a roster spot this year, after disappointing performances since being drafted in the second round in 2011. He has the body to be a bruising power runner, but has never been able to put it all together for Miami. He's having a decent camp, but the addition of Knowshon Moreno, despite the offseason knee surgery from which he is trying to rehab, cuts into the likelihood Thomas can make the roster. There's still a role that Thomas can fill on this roster, but he has to prove he is the right fit - and right now, he may be in danger of finding himself on the wrong side of the 53-man roster.
2 - Shelley Smith, guard - Signed to be a starting guard for a rebuilt offensive line, Smith seemed to be in position to claim a roster spot easily this year. Then, starting center Mike Pouncey was injured, and Smith moved to the center position, and could not get the center-quarterback exchange down. The Dolphins have since moved Nate Garner into the top center spot, and signed veteran center Samson Satele, while seeing Daryn Colledge all but establish himself as the starting left guard and Dallas Thomas and Billy Turner battle for the starting right guard slot. Smith went from starting, to being in danger of losing a roster spot all together.
3 - Rishard Matthews, wide receiver - This could be a tough one for Miami, and may come down to his role as a special teams player, but Matthews could be sitting on the roster bubble at this point. The problem is not Matthews' ability, but simply the number of players who appear to be ahead of him on the depth chart at this point. Mike Wallace, Brian Hartline, Brandon Gibson, and Jarvis Landry all appear to be set on the 53-man roster at this point, while Matthews is likely fighting with Armon Binns, Ryan Spadola, and Matt Hazel for the last one or two wide receiver spots. Add in the enigma that is returner Marcus Thigpen's offensive role, and it could be even harder for Matthews, despite his performance last year when the Dolphins saw multiple wide receiver miss time due to injury. (To be fair, Thigpen himself is squarely on the bubble - though he didn't make this list.)
4 - Jonathan Freeny, linebacker - Freeny could be having the exact same problem as Matthews, too many players fighting for too few roster positions. Dannell Ellerbe, Koa Misi, and Philip Wheeler will man the starting linebacker positions, with Jason Trusnik, Jordan Tripp, and Jelani Jenkins likely the next three to make the roster. How many linebackers will the Dolphins keep? Special teams may have to be the way Freeny makes him impact, but he is fighting with players like Chris McCain, who seems to be flashing at exactly the right time, and could impress coaches enough to earn a 53-man roster spot.
5- Isaako Aaitui, defensive tackle - This one is still hard to put on here, simply because Aaitui is such a hard-working player and a good story. He is, however, fighting an uphill battle at this point, trying to surpass A.J. Francis and Anthony Johnson on the depth chart at this point. Aaitui may be the sixth defensive tackle right now, but will the Dolphins keep six defensive tackles when they have to keep an extra defensive end in light of the Dion Jordan suspension?