Sink or Swim: Best & Worst Performances From the Miami Dolphins’ Preseason Finale

While many believe the fourth preseason game to be a sloppy display of bad football, for some it is the last chance to save a career that is teetering on the edge of collapse. Many young-men stand currently on the border of making the Dolphins’ 53-man roster, and being released into free agency. Tonight’s game was the final factor to decide the fate of those players. While nobody knows exactly what will happen in the coming days, Miami will have to reduce their team by 22 men, and after a series of transactions, will end up with their final roster for this season. Everything was on the line for some players on the field against Tampa Bay, so here are our players who managed to rise to the occasion, and those who could have cost themselves gravely in the final exhibition game of 2015.

Swimmers:

Jay Ajayi:

Ajayi1

This was one of the most impressive offense performances of the Dolphins’ entire preseason. Ajayi was a force, and was able to run for 66 yards on 9 carries, with 37 yards added on two receptions. Ajayi found success on the ground and through the air for the duration of the game against Tampa. He showed that he has a truly unique motor, and that his legs never stop churning. Ajayi’s ability to create positive gains when he is in tight traffic and after contact set him apart. He should be a solid offensive weapon for Bill Lazor’s seemingly deep arsenal heading into the 2015 season.

Update: Ajayi reportedly has cracked ribs and could a chunk of the season. Mike Gillislee would be next in line for his roster spot if Ajayi is placed on Injured Reserve. 

Zach Vigil:

Going from undrafted free agent to a spot on the 53-man roster is quite a journey for a young linebacker out of Utah State. Vigil is going to be a very happy man next week, as he prepares for his first regular season game against the Redskins. Outside of one ugly play on special teams (Vigil took a very bad angle), he was a standout once again. Vigil has great tackling ability, and has seemed to already understand the technique needed to bring down an opponent in the NFL. While he doesn’t have great size, speed, or measurables, Vigil shows a very high football IQ, and solid tackling ability. After months of speculation, the Utah State product has likely earned himself a spot on the 53-man roster.

Will Davis:

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Will Davis sent a message tonight. He told the Dolphins’ management that they can trade him if they want, but that he is still can show flashes of the playmaker they drafted him to be. Davis had two interceptions tonight, both on very good plays. The first he was able to position himself to beat a taller receiver and muscle away the football. On the next, he read the quarterback’s eyes and jumped in-front of a pass in the red zone for his second takeaway. It is hard to say if Miami will keep Davis, given the dearth of cornerbacks on the team’s roster, but if they don’t he has clearly shown enough to either be traded or signed by another team in the coming days. Most Dolphins’ fans must hope that Davis’ can make the team, and show some of the ability he flashed tonight, but next time in a more meaningful game.

Christion Jones & Matt Hazel:

JonesReturn

While there was a holding call that nullified Jones’ big return that would have been a touchdown, I’m going to count it. He made plays all night returning punts and kicks, and might have earned himself a spot on the roster. The only reason for uncertainty is that there was another receiver who jumped out in the Dolphins’ matchup with the Buccaneers.

Matt Hazel had another very strong outing, and has most likely solidified the sixth receiver spot. Now it is time for Miami to make a very tough decision: do they find a new return-man on the open market, or do they keep seven receivers and go with Christion Jones. It seems logical to cut LaMike James and use the fourth running back spot on Jones, but it wont be that simple. Look for plenty of shuffling in the next few days at receiver, running back, and kick/punt returner.

Walt Aikens:

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Walt Aikens looks ready. It seems now that Dennis Hickey selecting Aikens in the draft this past year was a clairvoyant moment, foreseeing the need for depth at safety. Yes, he has the hair of a seasoned wizard, but we think Walt Aikens could just be a good enough player to justify the selection. He has exceptional quickness and appears to understand the workings of an NFL defense. Yes, he was playing against the third-string for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but Aikens had a great showing tonight. I know that I speak for plenty of fellow Dolphins’ fans when I say that I am excited to see Aikens play in the regular season opposite Reshad Jones.

Matt Darr:

Who did we cut this week? Darr showed up tonight, pinning three punts inside of the 5-yard line. There isn’t too much to say about Darr’s night other than that he showed us that the decision to go with him over Fields might have been based more on performance than we had initially believed.

Sinkers: 

Josh Freeman:

FreemanINT

Sink doesn’t really do this justice. I think we have to call it capsizing. Unfortunately for Freeman, that interception will most likely be the last pass of his NFL career. After missing on a wide open attempt that could have won the game for Miami, he threw another interception late in the fourth quarter. He sealed the game. He sealed the preseason. And unfortunately for Freeman, he sealed his fate.

LaMike James:

Throughout the preseason we had accepted LaMike James as the team’s punt returner, despite a lack of big plays. Tonight, James made a big mistake that could end up tipping the scales in the direction of Christion Jones. He muffed a punt early in the first quarter, giving up possession to the Bucs on their goal line. He didn’t look much better carrying the ball out of the backfield, and only got reps due to an injury suffered by Jay Ajayi. It seems that James could be in the same boat as Josh Freeman, with once promising careers fizzling out in the fourth game of the preseason.

Chris McCain:

ChrisMcCain

Yes, McCain played well. But this all relative. He played well against the third-string Tampa Bay offense. Remember when he was a potential starter, and a break-out candidate for 2015? He should have dominated against the opposition tonight. I am not saying that McCain had a bad night as whole, but it is worth noting that he has fallen from his positioning at the start of training camp. I don’t think it is as extreme as some would lead you to believe. McCain will not get cut. It is however disappointing that he was unable to seize this opportunity to start at a position that the Dolphins’ are desperately in need of support with.

Bobby McCain:

Some thought that McCain held his own tonight, but I do not believe his performance in the three most recent preseason games matched his performance in the opener. It seems that he has been struggling on crossing patterns, and has had trouble sticking with his man in and out of cuts. He has the speed and athleticism to get the job done, but cant seem to put the pieces together yet. Yes, I know he is a rookie. But the Dolphins have so many cornerbacks that the team cannot move forward with any dead weight. They cannot cut McCain, as scouts will be clamoring to claim a fifth round pick off of waivers. So now it seems that McCain will have to work hard to be ready for the Miami Dolphins season opener, given that he will most likely retain his roster spot moving forward.

Moving Forward:

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Here’s what I have to leave you all with following that game: no team in the NFL has enough depth. Every team needs more players, and while there are franchises with individual units possessing great depth, no team has a great backup option at every position. It is never fun to see your team go out and look like the Dolphins looked tonight, but that combination of players will never be out on the field again at the same time. The important thing to focus on is if each player did their job well enough that they could handle themselves adequately if called upon. And I do feel that most positional groups for Miami have that adequate player to plug in if need be.

Tonight, dreams were achieved, and dreams were slashed. It’s an unfortunately tough business playing in the NFL, a fact that is reaffirmed every season around this time. The Miami Dolphins will cut over twenty players in the next 72 hours. Some faces we have grown to know through camp will be gone, and some new players will even be brought in. But I find it is easier to focus on the positives. Young men will see their dreams realized, and will officially be members of an NFL team for the upcoming season. Each player has been given an opportunity to showcase their abilities, and in the next few days we will learn who which fifty-three players will make up your 2015 Miami Dolphins.

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