AC in the AM: Breaking Down The Decisions To 53

One of the wildest non-football weekends in NFL history is over. On this Labor Day Monday morning, now only six days before the first football Sunday, we take a look at how the Dolphins reached the regular season limit of 53 players. Where were the toughest decisions? The biggest surprises? The most inspiring storylines?

• Before we go any further, keep in mind that the both the roster and practice squad will change many times over the course of the season and, by the time you read this, could have already changed. That’s the way it works in the NFL. Always looking for upgrades. Always trying to find another piece. But we certainly know a lot more now than we did when the weekend began as clarity surfaced in so many different areas.

• The bottom line on the 53-man roster is this: Five draft choices made it; the other two are injured. Five undrafted rookies made it as well, an unusually high number and a clear indication of Adam Gase’s open door policy. If you can play, it doesn’t matter how you got here. Also credit the team’s personnel department for finding these undrafted rookies in the first place. As of Sunday afternoon, there were 23 new players on this roster. Nobody in this league sits still.

• Prime example: The Dolphins will open the season with two new kickers, punter Matt Haack and placekicker Cody Parkey, who was claimed Sunday off waivers. Haack replaces Matt Darr and Parker takes over for Andrew Franks. In Haack’s case, he was slightly more consistent this summer than Darr and will benefit from the sometimes awkward spin of a left-footed kick. In Parkey’s case, he is a former Pro Bowl selection (2014) and has converted 55 of his 65 career field goal attempts including all five from 50 yards or more. His career percentage (84.6 percent) is higher than Frank’s (78.4 percent). Any way you look at it, it seems like a sound decision.

• Also claimed off waivers Sunday was linebacker Justin March-Lillard, coming over from the Chiefs. The need for more depth at linebacker required a move like this.

• Meanwhile, the defense got some interesting additions from within, players who may not have been given much a shot when the summer began. Three rookies, linebacker Chase Allen, cornerback Torry McTyer and safety Maurice Smith, head that list. All three went undrafted. All of them, simply put, played their way on to this team. They are this year’s examples that there’s always hope.

• The Dolphins chose to keep two quarterbacks on the 53-man roster, bringing Brandon Doughty back on the practice squad. I’m sure they were tempted to keep David Fales, who did well in the preseason. But Fales was ineligible for the practice squad and that roster spot is simply too valuable to use on a No. 3 quarterback.

• Three, four or five running backs? The Dolphins went with four, releasing Storm Johnson and keeping Senorise Perry, a third-year player out of Louisville with an intriguing upside. They also added De’Veon Smith to the practice squad.

• Wide receiver fell about the way we had anticipated. The Dolphins kept five on the 53-man roster, bringing Drew Morgan and Malcolm Lewis back for the practice squad. The question remains: Who is the fourth receiver, Jakeem Grant or Leonte Carroo? Grant sure made a strong case for himself in the final preseason game at Minnesota.

• Some good stories on the defensive line didn’t make it: London born Lawrence Okoye who never played college football and undrafted former Temple standout Praise Martin-Oguike, who forced a remarkable 18 fumbles in college, couldn’t crack a deep and talented defensive line. Both showed an interesting upside. I was really looking forward to praising Praise.

• For those history buffs, John Denney returns for a 13th season as the team’s long snapper, his position assured when Winston Chapman was waived. It’s so easy to take Denney for granted. But when is the last time you can remember a botched snap? See what I mean.

• And finally, this has nothing to do with cuts but I had to chime in on the contract extension given to veteran safety T.J. McDonald. This was a smart move. The coaching staff saw what McDonald can do in the preseason and what they saw was a player with a big upside who could team with Reshad Jones to provide stability in the deep secondary for years to come. And he’s just 26 years old, no less. It said plenty when this team signed McDonald despite the 8-game suspension he has just begun serving. It says even more that they acted swiftly and decisively to lock up an important asset long-term.