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:
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▪ 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: At one point, there was some sentiment to keep Brandon Doughty as a third quarterback. But Doughty is now facing an uphill climb to make the roster.
Zac Dysert (10 of 15, 117 yards, 112.4 rating in preseason) is now being given some consideration, too, if Miami keeps three quarterbacks. Doughty (12 of 16, 87 yards, 87.2 rating) could end up on the practice squad. No. 2 quarterback Matt Moore returned to practice from a concussion on Monday but won’t play Thursday.
▪ Defensive line: Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said he expects the team to keep nine. Seven of them would be Cameron 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 long term. 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.