6 p.m. update: The Dolphins have traded defensive end Chris McCain to the Saints. Miami received a conditional seventh-round pick in return, according to a source.
Signed originally as an undrafted free agent out of California, McCain had seven tackles and two sacks in 18 games over two seasons for the Dolphins. Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said recently that McCain had proven himself as a pass-rusher but still needed to improve against the run.
DOLPHINS ROSTER BREAKDOWN
Except for their specialists in the kicking game, the Dolphins face difficult decisions at every position when rosters must be cut from 75 to 53 on Saturday.
And though these are group decisions, the final say ultimately goes to coach Adam Gase, who the team says has final say on the 53-man roster.
The Dolphins stand at 78 players, with three more cuts required by 4 p.m. Tuesday and 22 more on Saturday.
Assessing the tough calls at each position:
• Running back: A week ago, it looked like Kenyan Drake could begin the season on short-term injured reserve, with Isaiah Pead on the 53. Now, that could be reversed, with Pead potentially beginning the season on short-term IR with a hamstring injury expected to sideline him at least two weeks.
Pead said he’s unsure of a timetable. Short-term IR requires missing eight games.
If Miami keeps Pead on the active roster, that likely would mean cutting Damien Williams – who has value on special teams and as a receiver out of the backfield – because the Dolphins likely won’t keep more than four backs, and Arian Foster, Jay Ajayi and Drake are in good position for three of those spots. So placing Pead on short-term IR makes some sense.
The Dolphins also could cut Pead if they believe they will be able to re-sign him when he’s healthy. Drake, meanwhile, said he’s fully recovered from his hamstring injury and will play Thursday against Tennessee.
• Receiver: It was telling that Griff Whalen got some snaps in four-receiver sets with the first team against Atlanta. He also has handled that No. 4 receiver job recently in practice.
So Whalen potentially stands to make the team as sixth receiver if the Dolphins decide that he’s better equipped to be their fourth receiver, for now, than third-round pick Leonte Carroo or returner Jakeem Grant. That would necessitate Miami keeping six receivers. Former UM receiver Rashawn Scott is a candidate for the practice squad.
• Tight end: The Dolphins could scan the waiver wire for a No. 3 tight end behind Jordan Cameron and Dion Sims. None of the remaining candidates – MarQueis Gray, Dominique Jones and Thomas Duarte – has won a job. Jones has six catches for 72 yards but also has two drops.
• Offensive line: Beyond the five players who started the Cowboys game, Dallas Thomas, Billy Turner and backup center Anthony Steen are well positioned to win three backup jobs, leaving potentially one opening among Kraig Urbik, Sam Young, Jamil Douglas and Ulrick John. Young and John are better equipped to play left tackle than Urbik, but Urbik and Douglas (a long shot) can play center.
• Quarterback: A couple of weeks ago, there was some sentiment to keeping Brandon Doughty as a third quarterback. But Doughty now faces an uphill climb.
Zac Dysert (10-15, 117 yards, 112.4 rating in preseason) is now receiving consideration, too, and that's only if Miami keeps three quarterbacks, which they might deem to be unfeasible. Doughty (12-16, 87 yards, 87.2 rating) could land on the practice squad.
No. 2 quarterback Matt Moore returned to practice from a concussion on Monday.
• Defensive line: Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph suggest he expects the team to keep nine. Seven of them would be Cam Wake, Mario Williams, Ndamukong Suh, Earl Mitchell, Jordan Phillips, Jason Jones and likely Andre Branch. Terrence Fede said his sprained MCL is the least serious among MCL injuries and expects to be able to play within a couple of weeks.
So Fede, emerging tackle Julius Warmsley and former Patriots defensive tackle Chris Jones are essentially competing for two jobs. Warmsley (three sacks in preseason) has been the most impressive of the four in games.
• Linebacker: With Jelani Jenkins’ status for the opener in doubt because of knee surgery, the Dolphins could begin the season with seven, though six seems more likely longterm. Beyond starters Jenkins, Kiko Alonso and Koa Misi, two other jobs appear likely to go to Spencer Paysinger (Gase spoke this week of how valuable he is because he can play any linebacker position) and Neville Hewitt.
That likely leaves the final spot (if Miami keeps sixth) for Mike Hull (team-leading 16 tackles in preseason), James-Michael Johnson or any one of dozens of linebackers who will be on waivers this weekend.
• Defensive backs: If the Dolphins keep nine, there’s likely one job open behind cornerbacks Byron Maxwell, Xavien Howard, Tony Lippett, Bobby McCain and safeties Reshad Jones, Isa Abdul-Quddus, Michael Thomas (can also play a cornerback-type nickel role) and Walt Aikens (good special teams value).
The Dolphins could fill that position with a player who will be cut by another team this week. If not, internal options include Chimdi Chekwa (has played in 32 NFL games but missed the past three preseason games with a hamstring injury), former Ravens and Patriots corner Rashaan Melvin, sixth-round corner Jordan Lucas, undrafted rookie corner Lafayette Pitts and safeties Shamiel Gary and A.J. Hendy. Chekwa might be the best option in that group.
Coach Adam Gase said Thursday that quarterback snaps during Thursday’s fourth and final preseason game against Tennessee will be split pretty evenly between Zac Dysert and rookie seventh-round pick Brandon Doughty.
“I want to give them a fair shot to compete,” Gase said. “If for some reason, Zac has a heavy play amount in the first half, maybe Doughty goes in early.”
Gase said against the Titans, he won’t play backup Matt Moore, who returned to practice after being a sidelined more than a week with a concussion. He also said Ryan Tannehill is unlikely to play.
Dysert played ahead of Doughty against Atlanta last Thursday and completed six of seven passes for 57 yards.
“The other day was a huge step for him,” Gase said. “He did a really good job of running our offense, getting first downs. The whole week, he had a different mentality. And he played like he practiced.”
• Gase said he had no immediate update on left guard Laremy Tunsil and receivers DeVante Parker and Kenny Stills, who left practice for undisclosed reasons. Stills left the practice facility, holding his back, after coming up lame when running a route. His back locked up but he's fine. Tunsil should be fine, too. Unlike Tunsil and Stills, Parker stayed to watch the remainder of practice.
• Linebacker Zach Vigil, who played a lot early last season, is expected to begin the season on PUP as he recovers from a back injury. The Dolphins are hopeful he will be ready to play as soon as he’s eligible to come off PUP after six weeks of the regular-season, or very soon after that.
• Linebacker Jelani Jenkins, coming off knee surgery, declined to say if he believes he will be ready for the Sept. 11 opener at Seattle. Spencer Paysinger and Neville Hewitt are filling at weakside linebacker in his place.
• Besides Jenkins, others who missed practice included defensive linemen Ndamukong Suh (ankle; not considered serious); Earl Mitchell (calf), Terrence Fede (knee), Dion Jordan (knee); linebackers Vigil and James-Michael Johnson (thigh), center Mike Pouncey (hip); running backs Isaiah Pead (hamstring) and Damien Williams (ill) and cornerback Chris Culliver (knee).
Jordan and Culliver won’t be required to take up spots on the 53-man roster when the season starts.
• Longtime NFL tackle Jermon Bushrod, playing guard for the first time in his career, continues to work with the starters at right guard and said he’s feeling increasingly comfortable there but isn’t at the point where he’s convinced that he will be a quality NFL guard.
But Gase said “right guard been a little inconsistent. We have some really good snaps and then some snaps that’s not good enough. He said it’s possible multiple players could be rotated at the position.”
• Kicker Andrew Franks found out he had won the kicker job when his grandmother texted him on Saturday that undrafted rookie Marshall Koehn had been cut. Special teams coordinator Darren Rizzi made it official Sunday, telling him congratulations.
Franks shanked a 37-yard field goal against Atlanta but said that including practice, he believes he has missed only four field goals in more than 50 attempts since practice began in late July. “I will miss a kick; I’m human,” he said. “I got it out of the way.”
• Regarding Jakeem Grant’s work on returns, Gase said: “He’s done everything we’ve asked him to do. He’s done it well. We’re not looking for just a specialist. We want guy who can do returns and contribute on offense. He’s making strides. It’s tough when you come from completely different system. He hit that wall and is starting to make those steps up.”
• Suh, asked about 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick refusing to stand for the national anthem, said: “You’ve got to respect the man’s opinion as well as his actions. I definitely understand where he’s coming from and him choosing to do what he did. A lot of [us have a duty] as leaders, especially with young kids, to make a good, proper announcement if you feel the need to. I think that’s what [Kaepernick] is doing.” Kaepernick cited “police brutality” as one reason for not standing for the anthem.
• Paysinger said the Dolphins began looking at Seahawks film on Monday in preparation for the opener.
• If you missed our inside look at changes made from Al Golden to Mark Richt, through the eyes of Joel Rodriguez (who worked for both), please click here.... And please follow me on Twitter, where I reported a lot of news on Chris Bosh and all of our teams today (@flasportsbuzz)