DEFENSIVE DECISIONS

In a few days the Dolphins will have to trim their roster to the league-mandated maximum of 65 players, and Coach Dave Wannstedt will be faced with difficult decisions at a couple of positions.<P>As the Dolphins prepare for their fourth preseason game, Saturday night at Green Bay, we take a quick look at each of the defensive positions and how the final roster might shape up.<P>

DEFENSIVE LINE

The Dolphins figure to keep nine defensive linemen and might even stretch that to 10. The Dolphins appear pretty set at tackle, with starters Daryl Gardener and Tim Bowens and young backups Jermaine Haley, Ernest Grant and Damian Gregory. Rookie free agent Buck Gurley has shown some good things this summer, but he's probably on the outside looking in unless the Dolphins make a trade. At end, Jason Taylor, Kenny Mixon and Lorenzo Bromell are locks, but there could be a battle between sixth-round pick Otis Leverette and second-year player Adewale Ogunleye for a roster spot. Ogunleye has two sacks in the preseason and probably has the edge right now, but Leverette looks like he's got good long-range potential. So it wouldn't be a shocker if he was kept. Rameel Connor and Devon Finn don't appear to have much of a chance to be around come Sept. 9.

LINEBACKERS

The Dolphins probably will keep six linebackers on the final roster, and there doesn't appear to be much of a battle right now. Zach Thomas, Derrick Rodgers, rookie Morlon Greenwood, Scott Galyon and Twan Russell will make the team, and it would be a major surprise if special teams ace Tommy Hendricks wasn't the sixth linebacker. The only player who appears to have a chance at beating out Hendricks is former Washington Redskin Tyrus McCloud. Aaron Gatten, Nate Hemsley and Paris Johnson don't figure to have much of a shot at making the roster.

DEFENSIVE BACKS

This has become perhaps the deepest position on the team, thanks to the emergence of 2000 third-round pick Ben Kelly and free agent acquisition Terry Cousin. Both of those cornerbacks will make the team, as will starters Sam Madison and Patrick Surtain and first-round pick Jamar Fletcher. The Dolphins also figure to keep safeties Brock Marion, Brian Walker, Arturo Freeman and Trent Gamble. That means the final roster spot in the secondary — unless the Dolphins unexpectedly decide to keep 11 — will come down between Shawn Wooden and free agent acquisition Daryl Porter. Wooden has the edge when it comes to coverage ability, but Porter is a big-time special teams player. Young players Zebbie Lethridge, Deshone Mallard and Nick Sorensen probably have no shot at making the final roster.

KICKERS

Any suspense here was eliminated when the Dolphins released punter Chris Hanson after two preseason games. Veteran Matt Turk, who has looked great this summer, is now the only punter on the roster, while Olindo Mare is the only kicker.


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