AC in the AM: So Many Hopes On The Line Tonight

Posted Aug 31, 2017

So you think the fourth and final preseason game at Minnesota carries very little meaning? I’m not sure you want to tell Chase Allen that. His football career may very well depend on what happens tonight.

Allen is an undrafted free agent linebacker on the Dolphins. Was a three-year starter at Southern Illinois. He has shown some real promise this summer, some excellent instincts and some reasons to firmly believe he can contribute on this level. His 21 tackles in three games is four more than any other defender. But time is running out. The roster will be cut by 37 players on Saturday and Allen wants to do everything in his power to make sure his name isn’t on that list.

Right now it’s too close to call. There is a need for more depth at linebacker, especially with the loss of rookie Raekwon McMillan. But the Dolphins did bring in veteran Rey Maualuga, who could see his first action tonight, and there is stiff competition in general for one of those final spots on the team.

That’s why you’ll see Chase Allen on every special teams unit tonight against the Vikings. Punt coverage. Kick coverage. Field goal block. If this is Allen’s ticket to the NFL, he wants to make sure he punches it.

“I try to treat every day the same,” Allen told me as he walked off the practice field this week. “But this last preseason game is huge for me. It may be my last chance to prove I belong.”

The Dolphins have noticed Allen’s upside. “He’s getting better every day,” said special teams coordinator Darren Rizzi. But is better good enough? Does he need to do something out of the ordinary tonight? Hard to project. Life on the bubble can be a very unsettling experience. Allen tries not to think much about that.

“I believe I can compete on this level,” he said. “But I know that every play matters.”

Tonight against the Vikings is about a lot of things for the Dolphins. It’s about a few starting positions still up for grabs. It’s about getting some veterans additional work. It’s about refining substitution patterns and about moving on without any more significant injuries.

But mostly tonight is about players like Chase Allen, who need a productive game to complete a summertime resume that they can only hope is impressive enough to perhaps justify a spot on this roster or practice squad. What players other than Allen are in a similar position? Who else needs to treat tonight as if it were his own personal Super Bowl?

Here’s five players that quickly come to mind, though you know there are plenty more:

• Wide receiver Damore’ea Stringfellow: Remember his 99-yard catch and run for a touchdown in the first preseason game? That certainly got everybody’s attention. But that alone won’t secure him a spot on the roster at what could be the deepest position on the team. Stringfellow should play a lot tonight. He needs to be productive. He needs to show sure hands and the ability to also contribute on special teams.

• Quarterback Brandon Doughty: A seventh-round draft choice a year ago, this is a nice feel-good story about a player that grew up a couple of miles from training camp and fondly remembers that big Dan Marino poster on his bedroom wall. But none of that will earn him a spot on the roster. Doughty, along with David Fales, figures to get a lot of snaps against the Vikings. He needs to play well, limit the mistakes and show a solid command for the offense. Even then, there are no guarantees.

• Running back Storm Johnson: How many running backs do the Dolphins keep? Three? Four? Five? We know that starter Jay Ajayi and back-ups Damien Williams and Kenyan Drake are safe. The next spot, if there is one, could come down to Senorise Perry or Storm Johnson. Perry is expected to miss tonight with a knee injury, which means there may never be a better chance for a second-year player like Johnson to juke his way on to the roster. I imagine he’ll get plenty of carries. I’ve seen some good things from both Perry and Johnson this summer. But you just never know how the roster will fall into place. Guess you could say Johnson needs to come up with a strong closing argument against the Vikings.

• Defensive end Praise Martin-Oguike: His college numbers at Temple jumped right off the board, perhaps the 18 1/2 sacks and 11 forced fumbles the most impressive of all. But he’s in a tough position with the Dolphins. They are loaded at defensive end with four quality players figuring in the rotation, Cam Wake, Andre Branch, Williams Hayes and No. 1 pick Charles Harris, and a fifth player in Terrence Fede versatile enough to play both defensive end and tackle. That doesn’t leave much wiggle room for players like Martin-Oguike, which makes this perhaps a make-or-break moment.

• Punter Matt Haack: One of the training camp competitions that remain open, Haack is trying to displace incumbent Matt Darr and it’s likely both players will get opportunities against the Vikings. A left-footer out of Arizona State, Hack undoubtedly has the skills to kick in this league. But does he have the skills to beat out Darr? That’s the unknown and that’s why it could very well come down to this game and this performance, just like so many other players on this team.

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