Dol­phin de­ci­sion dead­line

Sun Sentinel Palm Beach Edition - - FRONT PAGE - By Chris Perkins Staff writer

Tonight’s game with Min­nesota will in­flu­ence roster cuts.

Mi­ami Dol­phins run­ning back Storm John­son un­der­stands the ur­gency of to­day’s pre­sea­son fi­nale at Min­nesota.

The first and only cut, which trims the roster from 90 to 53, must be made by 4 p.m. Satur­day, so to­day’s game against the Vik­ings is the last chance to make a state­ment.

“I try not to fo­cus on that,” said John­son, who played at the Univer­sity of Mi­ami and then Cen­tral Florida. “I try just to get bet­ter ev­ery day, look at film, get my craft to­gether and put my best foot for­ward.”

For some play­ers, Satur­day’s cut-down day will be the end of their NFL ca­reer, and for oth­ers, it’ll mean the end of their Dol­phins ca­reer.

And then there’s another group that could in­clude John­son. For them, Satur­day’s cut could mean the dif­fer­ence be­tween the 53-man roster and the prac­tice squad, ba­si­cally a group of 10 play­ers that prac­tices all week but isn’t el­i­gi­ble to play on gameday.

“What’s it like?” John­son said of the prac­tice squad, a slow smile com­ing across his face. “You want to be on the 53.”

The Dol­phins might play some guys who are vy­ing for start­ing jobs against the Vik­ings.

Mid­dle line­backer Rey Maualuga, who still hasn’t gone through a full prac­tice be­cause he re­mains over­weight and out of shape, has an out­side chance of play­ing.

So, too, does cor­ner­back Al­ter­raun Verner, who is fight­ing with Byron Maxwell for the start­ing job on the left side.

And at left guard, where the start­ing job seems to be up for grabs among An­thony Steen, Jake Bren­del and Jesse Davis, who also plays tackle, Davis could get some work against Min­nesota.

But over­all this game be­longs to the guys try­ing to make the 53-man roster, not earn start­ing jobs.

Coach Adam Gase knows what he wants to see.

“Re­ally, it’s go­ing to be more about can we ex­e­cute a little bet­ter than we have been, es­pe­cially with those backup guys,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of busts and not quite be­ing in the right spot and not do­ing our job con­sis­tently. I know these guys will play fast. I know they’re go­ing to play hard. We just need to ex­e­cute a little bet­ter.”

John­son, who spent time on the Dol­phins’ prac­tice squad last season, is mainly bat­tling fel­low run­ning back Senorice Perry for a spot on the 53-man roster be­hind Jay Ajayi, Kenyan Drake and Damien Wil­liams.

Both John­son and Perry are also kick­off re­turn­ers and play on all four main spe­cial teams units — kick­off re­turn, kick­off cov­er­age, punt re­turn and punt cov­er­age.

Perry sus­tained a knee in­jury last week against Philadel­phia, how­ever, and has been side­lined.

“He did do a lot of good things early [in camp] and I feel bad for him, be­cause he wants to be out there,” Gase said. “We’ll see how ev­ery­thing plays out. He’s done well and we’ll see how ev­ery­thing comes out num­bers-wise.”

In the big pic­ture, John­son and Perry are not only bat­tling each other, they’re also bat­tling a group of lineback­ers, de­fen­sive backs and of­fen­sive and de­fen­sive line­men for spots on the 53-man roster.

Gase isn’t sure how many roster spots will be won or lost Thurs­day. It’s thought the Dol­phins could re­turn as many as 45 play­ers from last year.

“We’ll get to­gether on this over the next few days and start talk­ing the be­gin­ning stages of what our num­bers are and where we have to make de­ci­sions,” Gase said. “We wanted to make sure we gave a full four games to do our eval­u­a­tion and we have plenty of time af­ter­wards.”

The other un­known in fill­ing out the fi­nal 53-man roster is who might be avail­able after the mas­sive roster cuts on Satur­day, dur­ing which more than 1,000 play­ers will be re­leased.

Play­ers know be­ing on the roster Satur­day af­ter­noon doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily mean they’ll be on the roster next week when prepa­ra­tions be­gin for the Sept. 10 opener against Tampa Bay.

“Ob­vi­ously, yeah,” John­son said. “But I trust in God and trust in these coaches and trust in my abil­ity, and just let the rest show for it­self.”

WINSLOW TOWNSON/AP

For­mer Mi­ami Hur­ri­cane and present Mi­ami Dol­phin, run­ning back Storm John­son, is one of the many play­ers whose im­me­di­ate fu­ture in the NFL will be de­cided tonight and this week­end.

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