The Miami Dolphins are poised for a big year in 2015 but before they can start playing the games that count there’s one more preseason battle to get through.
The fourth preseason game is often the least exciting for fans as the team’s starters generally don’t play due to the risk of injury. The last thing any coach wants is to lose one of their primary players in a meaningless game a week before the season begins.
Even though Miami’s starters are pretty much locked up, save for one or two positions that are up in the air due to injuries, there are still several key battles for backup roles that will be taking place on Thursday night at Sun Life Stadium.
Here’s a list of position battles to keep an eye on when Miami takes on Tampa Bay to close out the preseason.
The Dolphins starting linebackers are pretty much set with Jelani Jenkins, Koa Misi and Kelvin Sheppard. Beyond those three, it’s likely that Miami will hang on to another three or four. Chris McCain isn’t going anywhere and all indications during the preseason are that Zach Vigil is a favorite of the coaching staff, so his job is likely safe as well.
That leaves just one or two spots left and there are four main guys who are fighting for them, two of whom are undrafted rookies (like Vigil) who have been impressive during their limited reps. Those two are Mike Hull and Neville Hewitt and they’ll be fighting with Spencer Paysinger and Jordan Tripp. We could be watching the future of the Dolphins linebacking corps battle for roster spots here.
One of the deepest positions on the team is defensive tackle, where it’s likely that Miami will keep four guys. Ndamukong Suh, Earl Mitchell and rookie Jordan Phillips are locked in for this season and beyond. That could leave just one spot for C.J. Mosely, Anthony Johnson and A.J. Francis.
Mosely teamed up with Suh in Detroit to create the league’s top rushing defense in 2014 but the veteran has been splitting time between the second and third team and while he has done a solid job, there hasn’t been anything to make him stand out. Francis has been playing his best football of the preseason lately and rose to second team duties during the last week or so of practices. Johnson appears to have some potential but the mistakes have piled up.
This one is tricky as we don’t know if Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin wants to keep two quarterbacks on the active roster or three. Currently Matt Moore is the backup and Josh Freeman is the third QB. Moore has been unimpressive during practices and the preseason, but he isn’t known as a great practice quarterback anyway.
Freeman has certainly had his struggles since joining the Dolphins but has looked much better over the last week and would cost Miami about half as much as Moore does. Freeman’s salary for 2015 is $745,000 with a cap hit of $585,000. Moore will make $2.6 million this season but $1.6 million of that was already paid to him as a signing bonus, meaning that it’s dead cap money. If Miami keeps Moore, he’ll cost them another $1 million for the season.
This one is tricky because if the Dolphins choose to keep only five receivers, those spots are already locked up by Jarvis Landry, Greg Jennings, Kenny Stills, Rishard Matthews and rookie DeVante Parker. Clearly this is another deep position on the roster which could make it even more unnecessary to keep a sixth receiver.
That being said, there is a clear-cut favorite for that sixth spot if Miami chooses to go in that direction. Second-year wideout Matt Hazel has really grown since last season and is making plays during practice and in preseason games. He’s received glowing remarks from the coaching staff and is second on the team in preseason receptions behind Landry. Another solid game from Hazel could go a long way towards securing a roster spot.
Another position that Miami is pretty deep at is cornerback. Teams usually keep six on the roster but there is a chance that the Dolphins keep seven due to the talent they have at corner. We know that Brent Grimes, Brice McCain, Jamar Taylor, Bobby McCain and Tony Lippett (who the front office loves) will be on the team.
That leaves one or maybe two spots depending on whether the team is willing to let with Zack Bowman or Will Davis go, and it’s hard to see either of them being sent away. The thing about Davis is that he still isn’t fully recovered from his knee surgery that took place last November and that could factor into the decision. Though he has played during the preseason, he hasn’t played particularly well.
This is one of the battles that I’ve been keeping an eye on since the beginning of training camp. Caleb Sturgis is the incumbent but Dolphins fans are well aware of his issues with power and accuracy, both of which have continued during the preseason. Rookie Andrew Franks is very raw but there is no denying his talent.
The question will be whether the coaching staff is willing to take a chance on the rookie, which will likely come down to if they feel he can reach his potential. Based on what I’ve seen from both kickers at practice and during preseason games, it seems that Franks is the better option. The Dolphins have already shown that they are willing to take a rookie over a proven veteran when they released longtime punter Brandon Fields and handed the job to rookie Matt Darr.
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