One of the toughest decisions for an NFL team is determining when to give up on draft picks and undrafted developmental success stories. The Dolphins have a bunch of them who stand at risk with roster cut-downs looming, to 75 on Tuesday and 53 on Sept. 3.
Among them, and updating battles at their positions:
• Chris McCain and Terrence Fede; defensive line. If Miami keeps nine linemen, which coordinator Vance Joseph hinted was likely, then Chris Jones, Terrence Fede, Chris McCain and emerging underdog Julius Warmsley are battling for two jobs. All except McCain can play defensive tackle.
Jones logged Miami’s second-most snaps on defense against Dallas (behind cornerback Tony Lippett) and two strong games should earn him a roster spot. He has drawn praise from coaches throughout camp but needs to close preseason well.
McCain – a skilled pass rusher -- played a lot on special teams against Dallas but had only 12 defensive snaps (compared to 30 for Fede) and Joseph said “he's got to play the run better as far as setting the edge.” McCain said he needed the special teams work (more than usual) to show he can handle it.
McCain said this week he feels very good about his chances of making the team. "I haven't had any bad feedback."
Fede has value because he can play both end and tackle, but he hasn't flashed as much as a pass-rusher during this camp/preseason as he did last August.
The Dolphins don’t need to create a spot on the 53 for Dion Jordan until he is activated from NFI, potentially in September.
The Dolphins could stash McCain, Fede or Warmsley on the practice squad, but another team could claim McCain.
• Jamil Douglas; offensive line. The Dolphins’ opening-day starter at guard in 2015 stands behind undrafted Anthony Steen at backup center and seems unlikely to stick.
If Billy Turner and Dallas Thomas make the 53 (likely), that leaves probably three more spots among Steen, Jermon Bushrod, Kraig Urbik, Sam Young and long-shots Douglas, Ulrick John and Vinston Painter.
To me, the decision comes down to Urbik and Young, because Bushrod has value as an experienced left tackle and guard and Steen is needed as the backup center, unless he flops the next two weeks.
• Damien Williams; running back. This could be one of the toughest calls, because of Isaiah Pead’s impressive work. Pead has done enough to stick unless he totally bombs the next two games. The fact Miami wants to get him some first-team work against Atlanta is telling.
The easiest solution? Place Kenyan Drake on short-term injured reserve (eight games) and open the season with Arian Foster, Jay Ajayi, Pead and Williams. As we reported in the previous blog, Drake, back from a hamstring injury, said Tuesday that short-term IR is “not a possibility. Period.” But this isn’t Drake’s decision. The Dolphins can do what they want with this.
Williams hasn’t shown a ton in preseason, but Gase keeps raving him “because he’s a big man that can run really fast and catch the ball.” Gase mentioned a practice sequence last week where Williams told the coach he wanted the ball and then made a big play. Williams has value as a receiver out of the backfield, and his special teams work is generally good, but his 3.5 career average (on 52 carries) is pretty mediocre.
Regardless, it looks likely that Miami will keep four backs.
• Brandon Doughty; quarterback: There is internal sentiment to keeping the rookie seventh-rounder as a third quarterback – coaches really like him. If Doughty plays well the next two games, it would be risky to try to sneak him onto the practice squad.
And Matt Moore's concussion (timetable for a return undetermined) could create an additional reason to keep a third quarterback.
• Thomas Duarte; tight end. Practice squad seems more likely for the seventh rounder, whose blocking error led to Matt Darr’s blocked punt Friday.
Gase said “we need somebody to step up” among the group of middling No. 3 tight ends, including Duarte, MarQuies Gray, Dominique Jones and Gabe Hughes. That group, Gase said, "is clumped in together."
• Matt Hazel; receiver. Caught a touchdown in the preseason opener, but odds are against him.
Jakeem Grant and Leonte Carroo are on the team. Hazel or Griff Whalen will need to show a lot (or an injury arise) to justify either sticking as a No. 6. Whalen did well in the offseason program when he got first-team work; he and Ryan Tannehill seemed to develop a good chemistry. But Whalen hasn't had that opportunity in preseason and isn't sure if he will.
One thing that could help Hazel or Whalen: If the Dolphins believe neither Carroo nor Grant is ready for a regular workload as a No. 4 receiver. Carroo is coming along slowly, and Gase said he doesn't want to overburden his returner (very likely Grant).
• Zach Vigil/Neville Hewitt/Mike Hull; linebacker. Their circumstances have changed since they signed as undrafted discoveries 15 months ago.
Vigil remains sidelined with a back problem and is unlikely to start the season on the 53; Hewitt is an asset on special teams and has a good chance to stick and Hull has helped his chances the past two weeks, though he still has work to do to make the roster. Spencer Paysinger will likely be on the team, and James Michael Johnson could stick unless the Dolphins can find a better option on waivers in the next two weeks.
• Sixth-round rookie cornerback Jordan Lucas and impressive undrafted rookie safety AJ Hendy. Both seem likely for the practice squad, with Brandon Harris, Chimdi Chekwa or someone currently on another roster better equipped for the No. 5 corner job and Walt Aikens (very good on special teams) seemingly secure as the No. 4 safety.
Lucas' play has been uneven and he hasn't done enough to earn a roster spot.
Hendy, who has impressed coaches, said he played slot corner at Maryland, but said Dolphins coaches have had him play safety exclusively here.
"Coaches have said I've done decent against the pass but need to be more of a run stopper," Hendy said. That sounds like a player who is more likely for the p-squad than 53, even though he has forced some turnovers and pass breakups in camp.
MARLINS, HEAT CHATTER
• Lefty Braxton Garrett, the Marlins’ first-round pick in June out of an Alabama high school, hasn’t pitched in a minor league game this season and won’t because the Marlins want to be cautious. "Garrett is fine," Marlins executive Marc Delpiano said. "We are taking it slow because he had never been built up. Plan is for him to pitch in [instructional league]."
Some already consider Garrett Miami's top prospect.
• Marcell Ozuna, whose career slopes and valleys remain puzzling, is hitting worse since the All-Star break (.207) than every other qualifying MLB center fielder except Washington’s Ben Revere. Ozuna left Tuesday's loss to the Royals because of a family emergency. He's hitting .277 overall after a terrific first half.
• New Marlins outfielder Oswaldo Arcia, claimed off waivers from Tampa, has a .241 lifetime big-league average, with 42 homers and 127 RBI in 272 games. He was batting .229 with six homers and 59 RBI in 53 games for Minnesota and Tampa this season. In 2014, he hit 20 homers for the Twins but has declined since.
• Though he was mentioned in trade rumors previously, the Heat has indicated to Josh McRoberts’ camp that he’s in the team’s plans for this season, his agent said, adding Miami called to go over his offseason training and make sure everyone is on the same page.
McRoberts will make $5.8 million this season and has a $6 million player option for 2017-18.
But the Heat will need to dump someone with a guaranteed deal if it wants to keep point guard Briante Weber. Free agent pickups this summer cannot be dealt until Dec. 15.
• Basketballinsiders.com reports that Blake Griffin fully intends to re-sign with the Clippers when he becomes a free agent next summer. Though a lot could change in a year, keep this in mind: If that's true, then there might not be a single star player that the Heat has a real shot to land next summer, with Kevin Durant, Steph Curry and Chris Paul all considered longshots for Miami.