AFC East: AJ Francis

Five Miami Dolphins on the bubble

August, 23, 2013
8/23/13
2:00
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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.

Miami Dolphins Stock Watch

August, 19, 2013
8/19/13
4:00
PM ET
MIAMI -- Three preseason games are in the books for the Miami Dolphins.

Let's take a look at whose stock is rising and falling for Miami:

Falling

1. Dolphins’ tight-end depth: This weekend, Miami lost starting tight end Dustin Keller for the year with a knee injury. This is a big blow for the Dolphins, who were counting on Keller to stay healthy, produce and provide veteran leadership. Now Miami is scrambling to find answers with young players. The Dolphins have four young tight ends on the roster: Dion Sims, Michael Egnew, Kyle Miller and H-back Charles Clay. This will be a good test of Miami’s depth. Sims, Egnew and Clay were all recent draft picks of the past three years by Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland. If Ireland got it right, at least one of these in-house tight ends should be able to step up and play a bigger role.

2. Dolphins backup O-line: If you thought Miami’s starters struggled at times, the Dolphins’ backup offensive line was worse. Players like offensive tackles Will Yeatman and Dallas Thomas did not do enough to inspire confidence from Miami’s coaching staff. Second-string quarterback Matt Moore (four sacks) was being thrown around in the second half. The Dolphins need some of these backups to step up and earn roster spots. Injuries happen every year on the offensive line, and someone needs to gain the confidence of the coaching staff. That hasn’t been the case so far in three preseason games.

3. Will Davis, cornerback: Miami’s third-round pick has been one of the surprise players of training camp. Davis has made a lot of big plays, but he struggled in his third preseason game against the Texans. Davis was beat on a double-move during a 38-yard touchdown catch by Houston Texans receiver Lestar Jean. Davis also played loose on coverage on a few other plays. Davis has made a lot of interceptions in practice and has a pick in the preseason. But he needs to work on being more consistent.

Rising

[+] EnlargeMike Wallace
Scott Halleran/Getty ImagesDolphins fans finally got to see Mike Wallace, the team's prized free agent this offseason, catch some balls in Miami's preseason game against Houston.
1. Mike Wallace, receiver: Miami fans were prematurely getting antsy because Wallace hadn’t caught a pass in the preseason. But Wallace exploded in the first quarter of Saturday’s preseason game against the Texans with three catches for 58 yards and a touchdown on one drive. Wallace showed a full array of skills against the Texans. He caught a short, intermediate and deep pass on the drive. Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill and Wallace began a good week in practice and it carried over into the game. Dolphins fans can relax now that they saw the combo’s potential in the preseason.

2. Daniel Thomas, running back: With Lamar Miller the probable starter, the No. 2 tailback position was close between Thomas, rookie Mike Gillislee and Jonas Gray. But Thomas did a good job to separate himself with a strong performance against Houston. Thomas rushed for 25 yards on four carries and caught a 27-yard shovel pass. Health permitting, Thomas is now the clear favorite to be the first tailback off the bench to spell Miller. Thomas has been inconsistent and had issues with fumbling and injuries the past two seasons. But coaches have been raving about Thomas in Year 3, and he’s showing signs greater consistency.

3. A.J. Francis, defensive tackle: Miami’s defensive line is easily the deepest area of the team. The second- and third-string defensive linemen have been stout throughout training camp and the preseason. This week Francis, a third-stringer, had a good performance in limited playing time. Francis finished with two tackles, a tackle for loss, a quarterback pressure and a tipped pass. Francis was disruptive and showed good strength and movement down the line of scrimmage. It’s going to be very hard to make the Dolphins as a defensive lineman, but he made a good case Saturday night.

What to watch revisited: Dolphins

August, 19, 2013
8/19/13
11:30
AM ET
MIAMI -- Entering Saturday night’s game against the Houston Texans, I provided three keys for the Miami Dolphins. Houston defeated the Dolphins, 24-17.

Let’s take a look back at the game and how Miami performed in these three areas.

1. A fast start for offense: It wasn’t ideal. The Dolphins sputtered and suffered through penalties in the first two series on offense. However, Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill and Co. made up for it on the third drive at the end of the first quarter. The Dolphins drove 80 yards on seven plays during an impressive passing display led by Tannehill and new No. 1 receiver Mike Wallace. The pair combined for three receptions for 58 yards and a touchdown on the series. The highlight was Wallace’s 33-yard deep reception on the sideline where Wallace ran past the defender and made a challenging catch. Miami’s starting offense got extended time and scored another touchdown on a Lamar Miller 4-yard run in the second quarter. Overall, the Dolphins’ offense has something to build on.

2. Running back competition: Speaking of running backs, the Dolphins were looking for separation behind Miller, who is the projected starter. They may have gotten it with third-year player Daniel Thomas. He had his best preseason game against Houston, rushing for 25 yards on just four carries. Thomas has the inside track to become Miami’s No. 2 tailback behind Miller. Dolphins rookie running back Mike Gillislee (three carries, nine yards) and Jonas Gray (four carries, 14 yards) didn’t have productive games.

3. Find depth on defense: Miami’s starting defense is mostly set. However, there are plenty of backup roles available on defense, and this was an ideal time for players to step up. There were a few lesser-known backups who played well in this game. I thought linebacker Josh Kaddu and defensive tackle Kheeston Randall made plays and will be vying for roster spots. But a backup defensive player who helped himself the most Saturday defensive tackle A.J. Francis. In limited time, Francis recorded two tackles, a tackle for loss, a pass deflection and a hit on the quarterback. Miami already has a ton of depth at defensive line. But Francis could be a project for Miami worth developing on the practice squad.

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