It is game day for one last time during the 2021 preseason. Today is the final chance for roster-bubble players to make an impression on the coaching staff and put good work on film in a quest to earn a spot on the active roster heading into the regular season. When it comes to the Miami Dolphins, who needs to have a big day as they face the Cincinnati Bengals this afternoon?
The NFL mandates a 53-man roster limit beginning on Tuesday at 4pm ET. The current roster limit stands at 80 players, meaning 27 members of each team’s roster will be released, traded, or placed on injured reserve over the next few days. Today’s game could be critical to some of the Dolphins’ end-of-roster players.
Miami is expected to rest most of their first-team players for this game. They could also hold out some of the veteran depth players in favor of seeing more snaps for younger guys. Who are the bubble players to watch today?
Larnel Coleman, offensive lineman - Coleman was a seventh-round pick for Miami this year, and was always seen as a developmental lineman. The question is, whether that development happens on the roster, or do the Dolphins try to waive Coleman, then re-sign him to the team’s practice squad? Putting something great on film today, when he is expected to see plenty of playing time, could force Miami to not risk him being claimed off waivers by another team.
Matt Skura, offensive lineman - Last week, I would have said Skura was a roster lock as the backup center behind Michael Deiter. Yesterday, however, the Dolphins made a trade with the Baltimore Ravens for Greg Mancz, who has experience at center and guard. They also seem to like Cameron Tom, the fifth-year veteran free agent acquisition from this year. Miami appears to be positioning themselves to have a backup center and, Skura may not be in those plans anymore.
Malcolm Perry, running back/wide receiver - Perry is the versatile player the coaches love to have so they can move him around, create mismatches, and keep defenses guessing. The former option-quarterback at Navy was a seventh-round pick last year, but he may not have a space in the top 53 players. Perry is likely headed to the practice squad, but a big performance on Sunday could force Miami to not risk him on the waiver wire.
Patrick Laird / Gerrid Doaks, running backs - One of these two is likely to make the roster, while the other could be headed to the practice squad if they clear waivers. Which one will be available to the team in Week 1? That could depend on how they both play today.
Kirk Merritt, wide receiver - The Dolphins cleared out some of the logjam they have at wide receiver this year with the release of Isaiah Ford and Robert Foster along with placing Lynn Bowden, Jr., on injured reserve, but there is still going to be someone worthy of being on the roster who just cannot make the team this year. DeVante Parker, Jaylen Waddle, and Albert Wilson are locks, while Will Fuller will be on the roster, but start the year suspended for Week 1. That is four of what could be seven or eight roster spots (counting Fuller as one of those spots, though he will not count against the 53-man limit for a week, then someone will have to be released to activate him). Behind them, Preston Williams seems close to a lock, assuming he is healthy, while Jakeem Grant and Mack Hollins are also in a position to claim a roster spot. This brings us to Merritt. He had a good game against the Atlanta Falcons last week, but he may need to have another strong performance to fore Miami to keep him this year.
Jason Strowbridge, defensive end - What the Dolphins do along the defensive line with the roster will be interesting. With the team running a 3-4 base defense - though they constantly morph into different alignments and fronts throughout the game - they can afford to keep fewer linemen while adding edge-rushing linebackers. Strowbridge, along with Jonathan Ledbetter, is firmly on the roster bubble. He needs a strong performance to force Miami to keep him on the active roster.
Shaquem Griffin, linebacker - The Dolphins placing Vince Biegel on injured reserve this week does open a linebacker position on the roster, and Griffin could claim it with a strong performance on Sunday. He is a special teams ace, but needs to prove that he can be a solid depth option at linebacker. He is probably battling Duke Riley for the spot, and Riley is probably ahead of Griffin at this point. Can the UCF product change that today?
Trill Williams, cornerback - Xavien Howard, Byron Jones, Justin Coleman, and Nik Needham seem roster locks, while Noah Igbinoghene is almost to that level despite a disappointing training camp (though he is only 21, so there is plenty of time for him to grow, but that is not this discussion right now). Add in Jason McCourty and Jamal Perry, both of whom are listed as cornerbacks but are also safeties, and you have seven players who can be your cornerbacks on the roster. Williams is a high-potential player, but the numbers are against him right now. If he comes out strong on Sunday, the Dolphins may be forced to find a way to keep him on the roster rather than try to stash him on the practice squad.
Clayton Fejedelem, safety - Fejedelem is a strong special teams player, but the Dolphins has several of those and they have a deep safety group as well. Eric Rowe, Jevon Holland, Brandon Jones, Jason McCourty, and Jamal Perry are all options at safety, which could push Fejedelem off the roster. He needs to prove something today if he wants to move onto the right side of the cut line.