MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- Quarterback Ryan Tannehill and the rest of the Dolphins starters got to relax Thursday. They didn't play a snap. The backups had the task of facing St. Louis in the preseason finale, and as a group they fared OK, defeating the Rams, 14-13, at Sun Life Stadium.
But Thursday was one of the rare times on the NFL calendar it was about the individual, not the team. The NFL cutdown date is Saturday, and the Dolphins had a few roster spots to settle.
"Definitely jobs are open," Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said. "That's why we're here. We're here to compete. We want to see these guys play out a game without the coaches in the middle of it, see how they respond."
A few guys excelled. Defensive tackle Garrison Smith, the undrafted rookie from Georgia, continued his trend of showing up big in games. He had a sack and four tackles (two for losses) in the first half alone. Most likely he's a candidate for the practice squad instead of the 53-man roster. The Dolphins are deep and talented on the defensive line.
Running back Damien Williams, the undrafted rookie from Oklahoma who probably secured a spot on the 53-man roster entering the game, struggled with three carries for 14 yards and two receptions for 14 yards.
And rookie running back Orleans Darkwa, the undrafted rookie from Tulane, was OK with nine carries for 15 yards, one reception for eight yards, and a 29-yard kickoff return among his plays. It'll be close whether either Williams or Darkwa make the 53-man roster. They're locked in a battle with veteran Daniel Thomas, the 2011 second-round pick who might have breathed life into his roster chances by rushing for 38 yards on 13 carries and a touchdown.
Rookie linebacker Chris McCain, the undrafted rookie from California, was disruptive late in the game with three tackles, including two sacks.
Overall, however, things weren't very smooth. Mind you, these were the backups so it doesn't matter very much, but the Dolphins turned in a choppy, uneven performance. They didn't take control of the game in any aspect, something that went against Philbin's pre-game desire.
"I told the guys in the locker room right before the game, we should take control of the game up front, on both sides of the football," Philbin said before the game. "We've got to run the ball. Hopefully, Daniel Thomas, we can get him a lot of work, see where he is.
"Defensively, we really want to work on our pursuit, tackling and trying to create some turnovers. We haven't done a great job of that yet."
The Dolphins got good news Thursday when kicker Caleb Sturgis took the field for two extra points and a 53-yard field goal, which was wide left. Sturgis' appearance was a sign his groin injury is healing and that he might be able to kick in the Sept. 7 opener against New England. That could allow the team to release kicker Jake Rogers and keep another position player.
On the other hand, rookie linebacker Jordan Tripp, the fifth-round pick from Montana, sustained a chest injury and left the game in the first half. He didn't return. His status for the opener is unknown.
The Dolphins won't practice Friday. They'll spend much of the day playing the numbers game, such as deciding whether third-team quarterback Seth Lobato (12-for-25, 127 yards, one touchdown, one interception) did enough to make the 53-man roster. These are tough decisions.
"You want to collect as many good football players as you can," Philbin said. "You understand, by keeping a third quarterback or a fourth tight end or a sixth wide receiver, you have to give up something somewhere else. It's all kind of balancing those needs and who you want on your team."
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