A much clearer picture of the Miami Dolphins emerged after the final round of cuts announced Saturday reduced their roster to 53 players.
The pressure is on for Joe Philbin, who has a 15-17 record in his first two seasons in Miami, to make the playoffs, and in order for the team to move beyond their past years of mediocrity and last year’s bullying scandal, they’ll need to have a positive year of growth and development.
The team has remade itself with plenty of fresh talent and 20 new players in total that will try to help the team make the playoffs for the first time since 2008. All told, there are 11 rookies on the roster, five of them undrafted: defensive tackle Anthony Johnson, linebacker Chris McCain, tight end Harold "Gator" Hoskins, running backs Damien Williams and Orleans Darkwa.
The team will go with six receivers and four running backs, as well as just two quarterbacks. Of the players cut Saturday, some could stick on the 10-man practice squad the Dolphins will now assemble.
Let’s take a look at how the final 53-player roster has shaped up:
Tannehill had an up-and-down preseason but looks to make a huge leap in his third year and has plenty of weapons at his disposal and a dynamic offense led by new coordinator Bill Lazor. Time will tell if he finally establishes a deep-ball connection with explosive receiver Mike Wallace and whether his oft-maligned offensive line can give him enough protection this year. Tannehill must make a big leap in his third pro season and finally prove he can lead his team to the playoffs.
Matt Moore may be unpredictable at times, but he could eventually prove to be an ever better fit under Lazor’s offense thanks to his arm, and he’s one of the top reserve quarterbacks in the NFL. Undrafted rookie Seth Lobato played the most downs of any of the Dolphins quarterbacks in the preseason but with more and more NFL teams electing to keep just two quarterbacks, Lobato didn’t show enough to make it to the final roster — although he has a chance of making the practice squad.
With Moreno, the Denver Broncos’ leading rusher last year, healed from his injury setback during camp and Miller in the fold, they chose to let go of their 2011 second round draft pick, Daniel Thomas. New general manager Dennis Hickey continues to undo his predecessor Jeff Ireland’s roster decisions and is evaluating his receivers based on their performance and fit with the roster. The two rookie backups are certainly talented with Williams and Darkwa showing enough in the preseason that they can hopefully be reliable options in the back.
The talent is there from this group but will Tannehill be up to the challenge? Wallace and Hartline are more than capable of providing the kind of big plays the Dolphins will most certainly need to make their playoff push. Landry, the explosive rookie who impressed in the preseason, has the tools to be a big playmaker and he’s in the running along with Williams for the new kick returner job that opened up with the release of Daniel Thomas. Clay did a great job last year replacing injured Dustin Keller and he finished at the top 10 in his position in catches, yards, targets and touchdowns.
Matt Hazel was a sixth-round pick this year who showed promise but was a victim of the dreaded numbers game as was Armon Binns, who was cut earlier this week. That says a lot about the depth of this year’s squad on paper, with six receivers on the team instead of just four last year.
With so many issues on and off the field for the offensive line last year, it’s no surprise that there is so much turnover here with seven new players being introduced and just Pouncey, Thomas and Garner the only returning players. Pouncey is a Pro Bowl center but won’t be available until at least Week 4 if his rehab goes according to plan, though Satale has been serviceable since being brought in late to camp. Thomas at right guard struggled mightily at times in the preseason and it’s still up in the air whether he deserves the starting job over Smith. This will be one of the top position battles to keep an eye on as the team prepares for their first game against the New England Patriots.
Pro Bowl defensive end Wake leads an impressive cast of characters here who remain the anchor of a strong Dolphins defensive unit. Last year, Vernon led the team with 11.5 sacks, a huge jump from his rookie season in 2012, when he he had 3.5. The Dolphins lost Paul Soliai to the Atlanta Falcons in free agency and Dion Jordan for four upcoming games due to suspension, but this is one area of the team where there is little to worry about.
While this group is solid overall, the depth is a concern here. Misi is switching from outside to middle linebacker and a quick adjustment is vital for the team. Wheeler had a career year in his first season in Miami and led the team with 118 tackles last year. Ellerbe was solid too, placing third on the team with 101 tackles. Tripp injured his chest during the team’s preseason finale against the St. Louis Rams and will be out for the first week or two of the regular season but there’s potential there.
This is a deep and talented secondary unit with newcomer Finnegan and Delmas eager to make up for the loss of Nolan Carroll in free agency to the Philadelphia Eagles. Reshad Jones would have been the starting strong safety but will sit out the first four games following his suspension for violating the NFL’s performance enhancing drug policy, so Wilson could get the nod here, though he’ll have to sacrifice his role as their nickel corner if he starts. Thomas is also an option to replace Jones, which would keep Wilson in his usual spot. Grimes bounced back from an injury-riddled season with the Atlanta Falcons in 2012 with a strong first year with the Dolphins where he recorded four interceptions and will look to pair successfully with Finnegan this year.
K Caleb Sturgis, P Brandon Fields, LS John Denney
With Sturgis finally healthy after a pesky groin injury limited him during the preseason, the team let go of Jake Rogers and appear to be comfortable with their returning starter being fully healthy. The 2013 fifth-round draft pick out of Florida still needs to prove he’s a reliable kicker to keep his job considering he had the fourth worst field goal completion average in the NFL last year after a solid early start to his pro career.