The Dolphins are about to play their final preseason game before making their round of roster cuts to get down to the NFL 53-man roster limit and coach Tony Sparano says "hard choices" are about to be made.
I'm looking at players such at Will Allen, Phillip Merling, Tyrone Culver, Gerald Alexander, Nolan Carroll, Lou Polite, Phillip Livas, Ryan Baker, Frank Kearse, Larry Johnson, John Jerry, Roberto Wallace and Marlon Moore as those presenting Sparano and his staff with those unenviable choices.
Let's look at them in no particular order:
Marlon Moore: I love this kid. I think he has loads of potential. He will play in the NFL, that is beyond question for me. The question is where? He's stuck in a numbers game in Miami. If the Dolphins keep their usual five wide receivers, he might be the last man out. The problem here is Moore needs to be a core WR to make the team because the Dolphins don't trust Moore on the field as a WR and don't have the time to develop him as such by playing him because they have better players at the position right away. Fact is, with development and experience, Moore will probably become better than Brian Hartline. But the Dolphins continue to go with Hartline because he is better right now and right now is most important to them. Thus Moore has to win a job on the roster as a special teamer. In that regard, he basically has to be better than Roberto Wallace. Sometimes he is. Most of the time, he's not. Thus his problem. If the Dolphins can find a way to fit six receivers on the roster, Moore makes it.
Roberto Wallace: Big, strong, loads of potential as a receiver. He's not the speedy deep threat that Moore is. But he's a better special teams player. That seemingly gives him a better chance at the fifth WR job. He's likely goin to play a ton against Dallas. He needs to produce on both offense and special teams to solidify himself. He obviously has not nailed down a job. But a good game could go a long way in helping him do that.
Phillip Livas: You want to root for this kid. You really want to root for him to return another punt for a TD. But after that initial explosion of attention he got, caused by that impactful 75-yard punt return against Atlanta in the preseason-opener, Livas has been quiet. Quiet gets you cut. He has shown potential but zero consistency. Barring another amazing game, I don't see how he makes the team.
Ryan Baker: This kid is like the old truck that starts up in the heat and the cold, doesn't mind never getting washed, sits unattended and needing a tune-up. And yet, when you ask for it to haul away a tree stump, it gets the job done. Problem for this old truck is the Dolphins have been building their defensive line with Dline versions of Freightliners. There are some serious, quality players on this unit. And so the old truck might have to go on the waiver wire.
Phillip Merling: He is probably the fifth of five fine defensive ends on the Miami roster. Yes, that makes him a trade chip. I wouldn't be surprised if he is dealt. But I know the Dolphins believe you can never have enough 6-4, 300-pound defensive ends, particularly when they are still in their early-to-mid 20s. Merling doesn't seem as explosive as he was in flashes before his Achilles' injury. But did I mention that he's 6-4 and 300 pounds and can still move very well? I believe he makes it. Unless he's traded.
Lou Polite: Sparano has made it clear he values Polite. Good FBs are very hard to find today. The coach has gone so far as to say it will take a lot of convincing for him to part with Polite. But the new offense has seemingly diminished Polite's role. With Charles Clay working in as an H-back type, the FB is not nearly as often on the field. And with rookie Daniel Thomas coming close to disappointing in the preseason, the club may find a need to keep an extra running back just in case. That also could hurt Polite. Me? I still find it hard to see the Dolphins let him go. Plus, I believe what Sparano says.
Larry Johnson: He's probably going to play a good deal against Dallas. That should give us a picture of what he's got left in the tank because we haven't seen him in practice which are now closed to the media. He is not pushing Reggie Bush nor Daniel Thomas for a roster spot. I perceive the battle here is between him and Lex Hilliard. This one is impossible to call because, well, I just don't know all the facts. Imagine a sportswriter admitting that? Wow.
John Jerry: What a bitter, bitter disappointment this guy is right now. If things had gone according to script, he would have used his rookie year in which he started eight games and come back this year a solid, capable, star-in-the-making right guard. Instead he came back soft and unprepared and went from starter-in-waiting to perpetual back up. Frankly, if it weren't for his draft pedigree (a third round pick last season), I could see him cut. That probably doesn't happen. But make no mistake, the fact Jerry couldn't lock down a starting job threw the Oline plans into chaos.
Culver, Carroll, Allen, Alexander: Two of these four will make the team for sure. One of these will definitely be cut. The other is kind of in netherland based on what happens in the game. To me, Allen seems a likely cut right now. He hasn't really stayed healthy in two seasons. He was tripped up by a hamstring injury earlier in camp. He used to be a good player, but we're not sure what he is now. And he's scheduled to make $1.5 million. If he's on the roster the first day of the regular season, that money is guaranteed. That's a hard thing to do with a player whose recent history is to be done by October. So I wouldn't be surprised if the Dolphins cut him and then tried to bring him back later. If they cut Carroll, he'll likely get picked up on waivers. Alexander to me represents special teams insurance. We'll see how valuable at the game Thursday. Culver is valuable in that he he can play dime, works in all the special teams, and can help in the nickel in a very tough spot. But has he made plays? Some. Not big ones this preseason. And that puts him at risk.
Kearse: I love this kid. But he's a kid. He has to learn to play. He isn't anywhere near Paul Soliai or even backup Ronald Fields. He feels like a practice squad guy to me.