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The Miami Dolphins are not yet complete with their 2015 regular season roster, with waiver claims, free agent signings, and a practice squad still to happen, but they did reduce the roster to the 53-man regular season limit on Saturday, which gives us the basis for the year. The team that takes the field a week from today will basically be the same team that they have right now, with a few adjustments.
There were several positions battles over the past few weeks, some with surprising outcomes, some coming out exactly as expected. Some areas of the Dolphins have a ton of depth, some do not. What does the roster say about the 50th edition of the Dolphins?
1. Tight end depth is a concern.
The Dolphins only kept Jordan Cameron and Dion Sims on the 53-man roster. Tim Semisch and Jake Stoneburner are practice squad possibilities, which would give the team depth between weeks, but does not help them on game day. Should we expect another tight end to be added between now and Week 1? My guess would be yes, there is something that has to be changed. If the Dolphins are planning to run a lot of two tight end sets, and they seem to be setting that up and considering Sims and Cameron joint starters, then having a third tight end, especially a blocking tight end, is paramount.
2. Offensive line still has questions.
The starting offensive line has a lot of talent, but may still be raw, especially at the guard positions. The release of Sam Brenner was a surprise on Saturday, as he appeared to be the only true backup center behind Mike Pouncey. Jamil Douglas looks like he will start over Billy Turner at right guard, with Dallas Thomas at left guard, then Ja'Wuan James at right tackle and, if he is healthy, Branden Albert at left tackle. Jason Fox backs up Albert, and probably James, which leaves Jeff Linkenbach as the utility reserve and Jacques McClendon as the center. This does not feel like the actual offensive line group for when the season starts, so a waiver claim or a free agent signing would not be a surprise.
3. Dolphins keep 6 wide receivers.
Miami is deep at wide receiver this year, especially when you consider this coaching regime has, in the past, ru with just four wide outs on the roster. Four players were locks all offseason, with Greg Jennings, Jarvis Landry, Kenny Stills, and DeVante Parker taking the top four spots on the depth chart. Rishard Matthews' role on the team expanded as the Preseason progressed, and he showed he was worth the fifth spot. Everything came down to Matt Hazel as the possible sixth receiver, and he had a really good Preseason. He demonstrated that, if Miami wanted to keep him, they would have to keep him on the roster, as he would likely be poached off the practice squad. That does not mean his position is locked in for the year, but he has potential to help out this year in case of injuries, and he should develop into a bigger role by next season. The receivers appear to be locked, unless Miami can find a way to sign someone like Reggie Wayne.
4. 7 Linebacker and 7 Cornerbacks indicate concerns at both positions.
The Dolphins had position battles at linebacker and cornerback this year, especially among the depth players. In the end, the team kept seven of each, which is a really large number. If the team is making waiver claims today, or looking to sign free agents, I would expect some of the corresponding releases to make roster space would come out of these two spots. Neville Hewitt, the undrafted free agent rookie, was a bit of a surprise to make the roster, especially over Mike Hull and Jeff Luc, also undrafted free agent rookies. The Dolphins reportedly like Spencer Paysinger's abilities on special teams, but he could be another option in a roster churn. At cornerback, the Dolphins kept Bobby McCain, Will Davis, Zack Bowman, and Tony Lippett behind the starters, a move which may show some concern about the ability of the depth players to fill in if needed, and definitely shows a concern about the depth of the position after seeing the secondary riddled with injuries last year. Lippett is probably the safest of the group if cornerbacks get included in the roster purge, just because Miami seems to like his athletic ability, even if he is raw as a cornerback.
5. Rookie kickers win their position battles.
Andrew Franks beat out Caleb Sturgis for the place kicking duties, which was not a major surprise. The rookie and the incumbent were close throughout training camp and the Preseason, and, while neither is perfect, the Dolphins seem comfortable with Franks' kickoffs and field goals. Perhaps the biggest roster surprise this year for Miami is Matt Darr's presence on the 53-man roster over former Pro Bowl punter Brandon Fields. The Dolphins insist the move was a football decision, with Darr out kicking Fields, and to some degree he did, but there has to be some consideration that Darr is not going to cost nearly as much as Fields would. Going with rookie kickers for both roles is concerning, but if the coaches believe they are ready, it is time to trust them. There are some interesting veterans available right now after yesterday's cuts, so Miami could look to upgrade the position sometime in the near future if the are not as comfortable with the rookies as they have made themselves seem.