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This is the time, I would imagine, that coaches dread the most. The Dolphins enter tonight’s game against St. Louis with 75 players on their roster. By late afternoon Saturday they must be down to the regular season limit of 53.
That’s 22 players whose dreams must be put on hold. That’s 22 mostly gut-wrenching decisions for Joe Philbin and his staff. If you make it this far, you clearly have ability and potential. But are you the right fit? Are you at a position where the team already has an abundance of talent? Are you valuable on special teams?
So many factors go into this and that’s why tonight’s game can be so important. Leave the right lasting impression, make enough plays to change some opinions, and this can truly be a springboard game.
“Absolutely,” came Philbin’s response when asked if spots on this roster remain open heading into tonight’s game.
The starters figure to get little more than a cameo appearance against the Rams. Some won’t even play at all. That clears a path for so many other players. Which ones make the most of it? Which ones use this opportunity to cement their spot on the 53-man roster? That’s what tonight is all about. That’s why for some players, hanging on by a proverbial thread, it is their Super Bowl.
These decisions become even more difficult when a player has done everything asked of him, but the numbers simply do not fall in his favor. “It’s never easy to do,” says Philbin. “Certainly there will be some quality individuals that you have to let go.”
I’ve never been a believer in predicting roster cuts in my column. It’s insensitive and, as a member of the media, there are so many variables we truly don’t know about. But what I can do is offer some insight into five decisions that I’m glad I don’t have to make.
• What do you do at wide receiver? The Dolphins kept four in last season’s cut down to 53. I can’t imagine keeping so few again, certainly when you consider that this is the deepest area of the team. Do they keep five? Do they keep six? And if you keep that many, which positions are adversely affected? Some receiver, I believe, is going to win a roster spot tonight. Another receiver, I believe, will lose one. That’s how high the stakes are.
• What now for Mike Pouncey? This is a tough one. The Dolphins have two viable options. Keep Pouncey on the active roster and hope he becomes available earlier than expected or place him on PUP (physically unable to perform) which would make him ineligible through the first six weeks of the season. Pouncey is telling people he wants no part of PUP. But if you keep him active, another player has to go. Pouncey has been showing steady improvement in his off-to-the-side workouts. This will probably come down to a gut feeling.
• Who is going to step forward as the third tight end? It is generally believed that Charles Clay and Dion Sims are locked into the roster as the top two tight ends. But a third tight end is important and often serves as a key member of special teams. Draft pick Arthur Lynch has been put on injured reserve. That leaves Kyle Miller and Gator Hoskins as the two candidates. To this point, neither has really separated himself from the other. Will tonight change that?
• Which undrafted rookie(s) make this team? Of the 75 players currently on the roster, 11 were undrafted rookies signed immediately following the draft. This is one of those areas I focus on every summer because a least one undrafted rookie always seems to make it. We hear good things about some of these players. But do we really know what the coaches are thinking? So here’s the list to ponder: running backs Damien Williams and Orleans Darkwa, defensive tackles Anthony Johnson, Kamal Johnson and Garrison Smith, linebackers Chris McCain and Andrew Wilson, guard Evan Finkenberg, defensive end Tevin Mims, cornerback Kevin Fogg and tight end Harold Hoskins. Somebody is going to surprise us. The only question: Who?
• What do you do after Knowshon Moreno and Lamar Miller at running back? It has been a frustrating preseason for incumbent backs Daniel Thomas and Mike Gillislee. Both have been hurt. Gillislee has been put on injured reserve. This has created opportunities for young backs like Damien Williams and Orleans Darkwa, who both did some good things against Dallas. Thomas figures to get his first playing time of the preseason tonight. Williams and Darkwa should play a lot. How does this play out? Once again, tonight could be the deciding factor.
(On Friday, AC in the AM gives his take on what happened against St. Louis.)
The opinions, analysis and/or speculation expressed by The Finsiders Blog represent those of individual writers, and unless quoted or clearly labeled as such, do not represent the opinions, policies or desires of the Miami Dolphins organization, front office, coaches and executives. Writers' views are formulated independently from any inside information and/or conversation with Dolphins officials, including the coaches and scouts, unless otherwise noted.