Ahh yes, the running-backs. Not so much scrutinized as in year past but this year the entire unit will be once again under the micro-scope. Not so much for their abilities or inabilities, not so much for failed drug tests, but simply because the Miami Dolphins offense is changing. All because of a little formation called the “WildCat“.
From full-backs to H-backs to slots and Pat White, the questions regarding the success of this years Dolphins team rests completely on the shoulders of this unit and how they can take what little fans saw last year and re-invent the way the NFL sees offensive strategy. O.k. so maybe that was a bit over the top…here is the preview of the Dolphins’ running back corp for the 2009 training camp.
Ronnie Brown: Brown enters the 2009 season in a contract year. Slated to become a possible free agent following this season, Brown’s focus will be on staying healthy for only the 2nd time in his career…last year was the first…and taking a possible new roll in the teams “WildCat” package. Brown has the most change ahead of him in the formation with the addition of WV QB Pat White.
Last season it was Brown who lined up to take the direct from center snap, now, Brown is finding himself rolling in motion and the results are leaving a rather impressive feel. Brown is finding himself open down-field.
If the Phins want to have success this season, they need to build off what they did last year with the “WildCat” or scrap the whole thing all together and since the latter won’t happen, there is only the one. Brown wants to establish himself and back-up his declaration earlier in the OTA’s that he is in fact one of the premier RB’s in the NFL and he will try and prove that outside of the WC. A strong brutish runner between the tackles, Brown has enough speed to break outside the tackles and get down-field. With what should be an improved offensive line, Ronnie Brown should be ready to break out.
There is zero chance of Ronnie Brown being traded or cut.
Ricky Williams: Now in his mid-30′s Williams has managed to play a season and go through an off-season without a suspension or rumored failed drug test. It’s a testament to how much he respects Bill Parcells and finally…his teammates. Williams is not the RB that he used to be but his layoffs have at least kept his legs younger. He still has adequate speed and makes a very nice compliment to Ronnie Brown.
Last year Williams struggled at times breaking tackles, something that he was accustomed to in the past. This is his first full calendar year start to finish coming off another season in about 5 years. He will have had the luxury of conditioning, weight work, and of course another year in this offense.
It will be interesting to see how Ricky is inserted into the WC formation. Last year he lined up in the slot and went in motion, that job now seems to be on the shoulders of Ronnie Brown. Williams and Brown will not split series as much as last season as Brown has shown a propensity to play harder as the game goes on. Williams will get his touches but the days of 14 to 20 carries are long gone. Ricky Williams’ career is coming to an end and finally that will be because he simply decides it’s time rather than quitting or being suspended. It’s been a very impressive turnaround for a guy who quite honestly I didn’t believe would.
He too is in no danger of being cut or traded.
Patrick Cobbs: The Dolphins like Cobbs. He just does what he is told and he gets better each season. The Phins likely view him as the eventual number 2 RB on the roster when Williams calls it quits. Cobbs is fast and moves well inside the congestion of the line of scrimmage. Able to burst outside, Cobbs is the opposite to Ronnie Brown. More finesse and speed than brute force. A change of pace back who is developing solid pass catching skills as well. In 2008 he had 19 pass receptions of over 270 yards.
Cobbs is not necessarily a lock to make the roster but for all intent and purposes it would be difficult to fathom him not making it. Only Lex Hilliard, drafted last year by the Phins stands to make a push on Cobbs and it’s unlikely that Hilliard will be able to wrangle the position away from him.
Lex Hilliard: Hilliard came to the Dolphins in last years draft and spent the season on the practice squad. Hilliard has a tough road ahead to make the Dolphins active 53 and it really comes down to how many RB’s the Dolphins carry, and who is listed as RB’s on the final roster come training camp. Hilliard was re-signed in January. He is seen more as a FB/RB than a pure RB or even a pure FB. It’s because of that versatility that Hilliard may be kept around.
Hilliard is intriguing and where his future with the team lies is hard to really predict. The Phins will likely enter the season with 3 active RB’s which means that even if Hilliard is on the final 53 there is no guarantee that he will be activated for the games. The Phins will take a long look at Lex this training camp and in the end I think he makes the final 53 and is inactive.
Anthony Kimble: Kimble was signed as an undrafted free agent out of Stanford which means the road to making the roster is longer given the depth at RB this year. Kimble has some talent. He rushed for over 1,900 yards in college but was originally a WR and was one of the top WR prospects in the nation coming out of HS.
Kimble is a project especially at the NFL level, but he has talent. A solid showing in training camp could push the Dolphins to favor him over Lex Hilliard. Beating out Hilliard is the only way he realistically can make the team. Kimble could show enough to warrant a practice squad spot, but that will depend on whether or not the Phins intend to put Hilliard back on the unit.
Lousaka Polite: Polite came out of nowhere last season joining the Dolphins in October. Polite was an undrafted RB/FB in 2004 who was signed by the Dallas Cowboys and of course Bill Parcells. He later was released and spent a year in Chicago before the Parcells once again picked him up in October last season.
Polite quickly became a fan favorite with his hard hitting ability and the way he ran up the middle. A straight runner who lowers his shoulder and a blocker who can open running lanes, Polite quickly found a spot on the active roster.
The Dolphins don’t have much in the way of full-backs on their roster. Perhaps Lex Hilliard will be designated as such and provide some depth. The Dolphins re-signed Polite this off-season and he enters training camp as the incumbent starter. He will be pushed by rookie Chris Brown. The FB position is Polite’s to lose and that is unlikely.
Chris Brown: The Louisiana native played his college ball at Tennessee before joining the Jacksonville Jaguars as a tight-end. Upon his release last season the Dolphins picked him up and moved him to FB. Brown is a project as a FB and a project as a TE. This year, Brown will likely find that the opportunities are slim to make the roster. His TE back-ground will not help him as the Dolphins are loaded at the position and his FB resume’ isn’t very thick.
Brown will not make it out of training camp and I don’t suspect that he will be a practice squad addition this year.