Reporting Tim Kephart
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MIAMI (CBSMiami.com) – Miami Dolphins players have just one more opportunity to make enough of an impression to make the team’s final 53-man roster. The players will have their shot Thursday night at Sun Life Stadium in the final preseason game against the Dallas Cowboys.
Dolphins head coach Tony Sparano hasn’t said if any of the starters will play against the Cowboys, but the likelihood is slim. This is because Sparano pushed his starters last preseason and it ended with franchise left tackle Jake Long suffering an injury that bothered him throughout the season.
If you’re hoping to see much of Brandon Marshall, Reggie Bush, Jake Long, Chad Henne, Vontae Davis, Karlos Dansby, or Cameron Wake; you’ll be out of luck during Thursday’s game against the Cowboys as most will play sparingly, if at all.
The positions that Sparano is likely to focus on in the Cowboys game are the defensive secondary, the offensive line, and his running back corps.
In the secondary, Sparano has to decide the fate of 11-year NFL veteran Will Allen. If he’s healthy, he’s a decent nickel cornerback. The problem is Allen hasn’t stayed healthy the last two years and he’s likely to be passed by Benny Sapp on the depth chart.
Sparano can keep Allen, but he’ll have to sacrifice either a backup safety or possibly young cornerback like Nolan Carroll. As always, part of what will be driving the decision is their play, but also the cost of keeping them financially.
Allen will have to become a special teams contributor and consider moving to safety if he’s to make the 53-man regular season roster this season.
Along the offensive line, the starting five is set. When the New England Patriots come to town a week from this Monday, the offensive line will be from left to right: Jake Long; Richie Incognito; Mike Pouncey; Vernon Carey; and Marc Colombo.
Colombo could be in trouble if Lydon Murtha continues to play well and Colombo continues to show why the Dallas Cowboys had no interest in keeping him around this season. Sparano has steadfastly defended Colombo, but so far Colombo hasn’t rewarded his coach with inspired play.
Behind the starting five, the player most likely to be cut may be former third-round pick John Jerry. He was once touted to be a perfect plug on the offensive line, but has become an epic bust that has come to define the Jeff Ireland drafts past the first round.
Running backs Larry Johnson and Daniel Thomas will likely get some heavy action against the Cowboys. Thomas has been a bust throughout his rookie camp and needs a strong showing to hold off Johnson for the backup job.
Johnson hasn’t played much, is 31-years-old, but he can run with power. He hasn’t played much in the last two years, but if he plays well Thursday; he may earn himself a roster spot at the cost of Lex Hilliard or Lousaka Polite.
Polite was a fourth-down beast last season, but the NFL running attack has changed and Polite’s fullback ability may not match what the Dolphins need. He was passed on the depth chart by rookie Charles Clay, according to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.
Elsewhere, Sparano will have to narrow down his defensive line to roughly seven to eight players. Randy Starks, Kendall Langford, Paul Soliai, Jared Odrick, and Tony McDaneil are all on the team. Phillip Merling is likely to make it, meaning people like Ryan Baker, Ronald Fields, Frank Kearse and Robert Rose will vie for the remaining spot.
One other position to watch Thursday is the wide receiver position. Brandon Marshall, Davone Bess, and Brian Hartline are your likely starters. Clyde Gates has shown flashes of great speed and will likely be the fourth wide receiver. That means Marlon Moore and Roberto Wallace will fight for the remaining spot.
Also, the Dolphins will be watching kick/punt returner Phillip Livas carefully. He burst onto the scene with a scintillating return against the Falcons, but has been quiet since. He’s fighting for his spot against the Cowboys Thursday night.
The game can be seen on CBS4 at 11:30 p.m. Thursday and on TV33 at 8:00 p.m. Friday.