The Dolphins will take the field tonight in Jacksonville, in what will be their final preseason matchup. According to HC Mike McDaniel, he expects to play starters for anywhere between “more than a series, and less than a half”. It’s also expected that the Jaguars will play their top unit for most of the first half.
While the impact of the starting units isn’t much more than a dress-rehearsal for the regular season, there are still important things to keep an eye on. NFL teams must trim their rosters to 53 by Tuesday’s deadline, so this will serve as a last-chance effort for bubble players, and camp positional battles to potentially find resolution.
Most of the Dolphins roster looks pretty set in stone, but these are the things I’ll be keeping my eye on at the 7pm kickoff:
Will the Dolphins keep a fourth running back? If so, then who?
Barring a Jonathan Taylor trade, current running backs Raheem Mostert, Jeff Wilson Jr, and Devon Achane, look to be locks for the final 53. The other three backs, Salvon Ahmed, Myles Gaskin, and Chris Brooks have all contributed strong preseason performances, so if McDaniel decides to keep a fourth it won’t be an easy decision.
Gaskin, now in his fifth season with the Dolphins, is the longest tenured runner on the roster. The former seventh-round pick is the most polished runner of the three, and his scrappy nature is a big part of why he’s lasted in Miami this long.
Ahmed’s skill set may be a bit redundant with rookie third-round pick Devon Achane on the roster, but after Achane suffered a shoulder injury last week, Ahmed could be safe to make the initial roster.
Undrafted rookie Chris Brooks is the most intriguing of the group. At 6 ‘1”, 223 lbs Brooks is the biggest and most powerful runner on the team, and has run with force and vision in the previous exhibitions. It will be interesting to see how many snaps he gets against the Jaguars, as he still appears to be a long shot behind the incumbents. Even if he doesn’t survive final-cuts, he will likely be a player that Miami looks to add to their practice squad.
Tight ends Durham Smythe and Tyler Kroft look to be safe, but which tight end will step up to claim the third spot?
The answer to this could very well come down to which player the team feels could be a contributor on special teams. Eric Saubert got some h-back, and special teams reps last week against the Texans, but has largely been unimpressive throughout campo and the exhibition season. Rookie sixth-round pick Elijah Higgins brings some upside to the team with his receiving ability, and had some good run-blocking reps between the first two games. He is raw, having recently transitioned from his college position at wide receiver, he may be someone they look to stash on the practice squad.
Tanner Conner may be the name to watch. After a standout performance in camp last year as an undrafted rookie, Conner made the team, but failed to see much playing time behind Mike Gesicki and Smythe. He has missed nearly all of training camp while on the physically-unable-to-perform (PUP) list, but was activated this past week. He doesn’t have much time to make an impression, so today’s game could be pivotal if Conner hopes to extend his stay on Miami’s active roster.
Current undrafted rookie Julian Hill has flashed throughout the offseason, and could have an outside chance, particularly if Miami decides to keep four tight ends.
Where is Robbie Chosen?
Chosen was an exciting addition this off-season, and flashed his speed in OTA’s, but he’s had a surprisingly quiet training camp. It no longer feels like he’s a lock to make the roster, especially when River Cracraft can play on special teams. If McDaniel chooses to only keep five receivers, Chosen may be on the outside looking in, with Braxton Berrios, Cedrick Wilson, and Erik Ezukanma securely on the roster.
With Robert Jones hurt, and Lester Cotten missing time, has Isaiah Wynn locked up the left guard spot, and how many snaps does Liam Eichenberg see in his return to action?
It’ll be interesting to see if Eichenberg receives any snaps with the first-team. He was clearly losing the left guard battle before being sidelined with an injury. I don’t know that there’s much he can do to be the opening day starter, but a strong performance could be the kick-starter his confidence needs after a rough training camp. Right now it looks like Wynn has claimed the starting job, but it’s important he continues to play strong after an impressive camp by Lester Cotton.
The Dolphins have a slew of defensive backs that could all make their case for the final 53, but Miami can’t keep everyone. Xavien Howard, Kader Kohou, Jevon Holland, Cam Smith, Eli Apple, DeShon Elliott, and Brandon Jones are all locks to make the team. Noah Igbinoghene is likely to make the team, as he’s on the final year of his rookie deal. After them, there’s a lot of intriguing young players, like Trill Williams, Verone McKinley, Noah Igbinoghene, Keidron Smith, and Bryce Thompson, that could all do themselves a huge favor with a strong performance tonight in Jacksonville.
Special teams standout Elijah Campbell has probably locked up a spot, but another core special teams player may be in doubt. After missing a chunk of time with an injury, Keion Crossen returned to practice this week, but with the depth in the secondary, he may be on the outside looking in.
Can any of the young players earn their spot with a solid showing on special teams?
Undrafted rookies like linebackers Mitchell Agude, Garrett Nelson, and Aubrey Miller Jr, all have a real chance to make the team if they can prove to be of value on special teams. All three have flashed in different parts of the offseason, but Nelson and Agude have really turned it up in the exhibition games. It wouldn’t be a shock if one of them earns one of the final spots on Miami’s 53.