Dolphins have tough decisions to make at linebacker

DAVIE, Fla. – The Miami Dolphins began the offseason with a lot of questions at linebacker.

Two former starters -- Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler -- were traded and released, respectively. Koa Misi also didn’t know if he was playing middle linebacker or outside linebacker this season.

But things have gone better than expected for Miami at linebacker this summer. Various linebackers are doing well this preseason, both starters and backups. Miami’s linebackers also are making plays on special teams.

This means Miami has tough decisions to make at linebacker this week. The Dolphins have at least nine players at the position who are capable of making the 53-man roster. However, the Dolphins can't keep them all.

“Some of it is dependent upon the quality of the depth of other positions as well,” Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said. “I think historically 4-3 teams carry six, seven linebackers maybe, somewhere in that vicinity. But it could be less or it could be more than that. It all depends how the roster shakes out, how practice goes and how the game goes on Thursday night, who we think the best 53 guys are.”

The Dolphins have four locks at linebacker: Jelani Jenkins, Misi, Kelvin Sheppard and Chris McCain. From there, five players are fighting to two spots. It is an interesting mix, with one veteran in Spencer Paysinger and young players Jordan Tripp, Zach Vigil, Mike Hull, Neville Hewitt and Jeff Luc.

Vigil is the safest bet to take one of the two remaining roster spots. He’s been the most consistent in preseason games and also brings value on special teams. Paysinger and Hull, an undrafted rookie, could be fighting for the last linebacker spot.

This is a very important week for Tripp, who missed a good portion of training camp with a calf injury. He is a former 2014 fifth-round pick who has failed to stay healthy. Thursday’s preseason finale against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is a good showcase for linebackers such as Tripp, Hewitt and Luc to try to earn a roster spot in Miami or elsewhere.