After this week’s preseason games -- the very important third exhibition when veterans typically get extended playing time -- the next important date on the NFL calendar is not the throw-away fourth preseason games but rather cutdown weekend.
That culminates on Aug. 31 when all clubs must cut their rosters to 53 players. And one day later, at 1 p.m. on Sept. 1, clubs can begin to establish their 10-man practice squads, with teams (such as the Dolphins) that have a player in the international player development program able to add that player to the practice squad in addition to the 10.
And this fact speaks to how young the 2019 Dolphins are:
Miami right now has 60 players eligible for the practice squad.
Of Miami’s 43 offensive players, 42 defensive players, four specialists and two players on the active/physically unable to perform list -- a total of 91 players -- there are 60 eligible for practice squad.
So the Dolphins roster is so young and so inexperienced that two-thirds of the players can be cut and re-signed for practice squad.
That is unprecedented in Miami since practice squads became part of the NFL talent retention and development formula.
But aside from the historical significance of all this, the ability to have so much flexibility with the practice squad potentially makes roster decisions easier. And it makes keeping some players who are not quite ready for the roster but are worth investing more time with easier to retain by employing the practice squad.
The Dolphins are likely to keep two quarterbacks in Josh Rosen and Ryan Fitzpatrick. That leaves Jake Rudock on the outside. But did you know both Rosen and Rudock are practice squad eligible?
Obviously, the Dolphins are not going to cut Rosen and then try to re-sign him to the practice squad. But if they want to keep three arms during the regular season, they can cut Rudock and bring him back to the practice squad if no one else claims him on waivers.
The running back room is crowded and there is a significant battle for the final roster spot. Kalen Ballage and Kenyan Drake (if healthy) will be on the roster. Did you know Drake is the only running back currently not eligible for practice squad?
Mark Walton, Kenneth Farrow, Myles Gaskin, Chandler Cox and Patrick Laird are all practice squad eligible.
The Dolphins could keep Cox, a rookie, on the original 53-man roster because he is the team’s lone fullback. The team then could keep another running back out of the remaining group, and still add yet another running back from any of those left to the practice squad.
Among receivers, the Dolphins could keep Kenny Stills, DeVante Parker, Albert Wilson, Jakeem Grant and one more -- Brice Butler, Preston Williams, or Isaiah Ford -- on the roster. And If the choice is Williams, as seems the current direction, Ford can return on the practice squad.
Butler is in the minority in that he is not practice squad eligible and neither is Allen Hurns.
Miami currently has 11 linebackers in camp. Only two -- Kiko Alonso and Terence Smith -- are not practice squad eligible.
Three of four backup offensive tackles -- Isaiah Prince, Zach Sterup, and Jaryd Jones-Smith -- are practice squad eligible. So the Dolphins could easily keep veteran Jordan Mills as a backup tackle if they choose and bring back one or two of the younger tackles to the practice squad.
The position where the practice squad dynamic doesn’t really help the Dolphins is at tight end.
Three Miami tight ends are practice squad eligible but two of them -- Mike Gesicki and Durham Smythe -- probably would not be candidates to be cut. The other players in that room either have to make it or move on because they are not practice squad eligible.
Clive Walford is not practice squad eligible and seems unlikely to make the team at this stage. Nick O’Leary is not practice squad eligible and seems likely to make the team at this stage. And Dwayne Allen is not practice squad eligible and I have no earthly idea if he makes it or not.
(Allen hasn’t really done anything in training camp or the preseason that screams he belongs on the roster. But he’s got New England ties and knows how to play and so that history will be given strong consideration by this New England-centric coaching staff).