The Dolphins are preparing themselves for a season without Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams. Both players are free agents and the Dolphins have expressed little interest thus far in re-signing either one of their previous starters. So who is likely to tote the rock come September?
In an interview conducted over breakfast at the league meetings in New Orleans earlier this week, head coach Tony Sparano indicated that the team has a plan to fill the void at running back. While he did not come out and state that neither of his previous runners were completely out of the mix, his words echoed the sentiment of fans and media alike that neither back is in their short term or long term plans.
He stated that the team has a plan and mentioned the running style of Detroit Lions runner Jahvid Best. A hard runner with breakaway ability and good hands out of the backfield in the passing game. Something that neither Ronnie nor Ricky possess. He also mentioned that the team is looking for a duo of backs who will compliment each other. A more thunder and lightning approach than simply handing off the ball and hoping for the best.
In the last few years, it’s been Ricky Williams who had the breakaway ability. His speed and short step running style allowed him to get to the outside where he could turn the corner and then turn a short gain into a long foot race. But Williams as unable to get to the corner enough last year and his explosiveness off tackle was all but gone. In the case of Ronnie Brown, his best efforts came when the team was in the WC formation as he reverted back to the old habit of dancing behind the line of scrimmage.
But where might the team find it’s next starting tandem?
The NFL Draft is the obvious location and the most likely first option. In the first round, the Dolphins appear to be sitting in a perfect spot to draft Alabama runner and top of the draft RB prospect, Mark Ingram. Ingram has all of the tools to be an NFL ready runner but the breakaway speed that the team has mentioned it needs. That does not mean that Ingram doesn’t fit in as the teams “yang” to the “yin”.
While Ingram sits alone at the top of the draft at his position, the Dolphins know that very good runners can be found later in the draft. Marion Barber a former Jeff Ireland/Tony Sparano player in Dallas was had in the 5th round. So while Ingram offers the top of the draft pedigree, he doesn’t necessarily offer the kind of “must have” pedigree that the Dolphins would give up a possible trade down partner for. In other words, if the Dolphins can trade down and add a pick they are likely to choose that option over drafting Ingram at 15…but if they can’t trade down, Ingram may be a valued option.
While the Dolphins will almost assuredly look to a runner in rounds two or three if they do in fact pass on Ingram, the team will also have to look at free agency when it arrives to find the player that will compliment that rookie or vice versa. It’s hard to pinpoint who the team will be taking long looks at from the market until the market opens.
DeAngelo Williams was tendered in Carolina but that only serves to protect the team while a lockout is in place. When a new CBA is agreed upon, some of the tendered players around the NFL may find themselves free agents. In other words, there could be two free agent periods this year. One if the lockout is lifted by the courts, and another if the CBA makes tendered free agents street free agents.
There are other free agent runners of course and frankly too many to list individually or really take a guess on as it’s anybody’s guess at this point. You can view a list of them here. What all this means is simple, by reading the words of Sparano, it’s evident that the team wants far more production from their running backs and that has led the team to believe or is leading them to believe that neither Ricky nor Ronnie are fits in their system. It also says that they are not quite ready to hand over the running duties full time to Lex Hilliard or Kory Sheets.