MIAMI – The Miami Dolphins will play host to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Saturday night in the "dress rehearsal" game for both teams. The first round of cuts to 75 will be next Tuesday, and the final cut to 53 players is coming on Aug. 31.
This is a huge game for Miami's players who are on the verge of making the team or getting released. Here are five players who need a good performance Saturday night:
1. RB Jonas Gray
Analysis: It’s not often that a team keeps four running backs. But Gray is doing everything he can to make that a tough decision for Miami. Gray has been solid in training camp and preseason games. He even carved out a potential role as a short-yardage and goal-line option for the Dolphins this preseason, which he's done well. Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas are locks for the 53-man roster. Mike Gillislee also is a draft pick, so he also sticks. Gray is fighting a number's game, and needs to prove Saturday why it is worth keeping an extra tailback.
2. DT A.J. Francis
Analysis: Perhaps no Dolphins backup has come on stronger in the past week or 10 days than Francis. The light has come on for the raw defensive lineman. Francis put together two good weeks of practice, and had an impressive preseason game last Saturday against the Houston Texans. The problem is that the defensive line is the deepest area of the team. My latest Miami roster projection has nine defensive linemen, and Francis didn’t make the cut. Ideally, the Dolphins would like to keep Francis on the practice squad. But that would risk Miami losing him to another team. Saturday is a good chance for Francis to show why he deserves to be on a 53-man roster -- whether it is Miami's or someone else's roster.
3. Guard Lance Louis
Analysis: Louis has been in a rough spot in training camp. The four-year veteran is coming off ACL surgery. He missed valuable practice time, but also needed to come back early enough to show what he can do before roster cuts. Louis has plenty of starting experience, but he's still rusty and probably not 100 percent. Louis was my last offensive lineman to make the cut. Much of that was because other offensive linemen are injured. This is a big game for Louis to validate his standing.
4. WR Marvin McNutt
Analysis: McNutt is in a neck-and-neck roster battle with fellow receiver Chad Bumphis. McNutt started training camp fast, then Bumphis took the lead, but lately McNutt is back to making more plays in practice. McNutt also has the size Miami's coaching staff covets. He just needs to work on his consistency. Bumphis is a slot receiver who doesn't offer much versatility. But this battle is still up for grabs, and could come down to the final two preseason games.
5. FB Jorvorskie Lane
Analysis: Lane, last year’s starting fullback, has really seen his stock drop in training camp and the preseason. Miami's coaching staff has moved in the direction of versatility and position-flexibility on offense. Therefore, players like Charles Clay and Evan Rodriguez are getting more reps ahead of Lane, who is a pure fullback. If roster cuts were today, I would expect Rodriguez to get the nod over Lane. Rodriguez is a better athlete, receiver and can play special teams. Lane's chances are dwindling fast. He has two more preseason games to try to earn a roster spot.