Miami Dolphins Training Camp: RB’s
By Sean Denison
Thus far, three days of training camp are in the books for this year’s Miami Dolphins. The weather couldn’t have been more ideal on the first day of practice. The temperature didn’t even break 85 degrees—an auspicious start for a team that resides in the NFL’s hottest market, especially in the summer. Getting a healthy dose of Dolphins football for the first time since late December of last year produces a good feeling, doesn’t it?
As in any practice, on the offensive side of the ball, all eyes have been glued on franchise quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Besides having good looks, a gorgeous wife by his side, a lot of money, and coming off his best season as a pro, Tannehill possesses an attribute that doesn’t have a price tag or materialistic value: confidence.
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But besides the Dolphins golden boy, all eyes should have been focused on the one area that often goes unnoticed in Bill Lazor’s up-tempo offense: the running game. In truth, the Dolphins were a pleasant surprise on the ground last season, finishing second in the NFL in yards per carry. In fact, Lamar Miller was one of 13 backs to cap off the regular season with 1,000 yards or more on the ground. So, where’s the love for the guy(s) who can essentially tire out opposing defenses, run out the clock, and be a nice alternative when the offensive line is in rhythm—ultimately providing the nail in the coffin?
Truth be told, Miller, besides being one of the most productive backs last season, never had more than 19 carries in a game. Fans never got to witness to see if Miller had it in him to endure a heavy workload and be an every-down back. And besides reaching the red-zone more than any team in the NFL, Miami struggled mightily once finding themselves in the “promised land.” An offense that consistently moved down the field with ease often abandoned the run and became rather lackluster once inside the 20-yard line. This lack of variety made their spread offense somewhat predictable and mundane.
Luckily, coaches have taken note of the luxury that Lamar Miller and the running game adds to this offense. Although no deal has been made, rumors have it that the Dolphins and Lamar Miller have been in contract talks. Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald reported the two sides have had cursory talks but no substantial progress on a deal.
Additionally, when mentioned, Philbin reportedly told ESPN.com about having no quarrel with giving Miller the opportunity he deserves. “I would tell you, if he’s cranking and he got it 24 times a game and he’s healthy and he’s fast and he’s explosive, it doesn’t bother me one bit,” Philbin said. This should be music to Dolphins fans ears. We know what Miller is capable of, and his speed is a nice complement to the Dolphins quick offense.
Given that this is the final year Lamar Miller’s contract, he once again has added motivation to prove his worth to the Dolphins. And we know how Miller responded last year when the Dolphins went out and got free-agent running back Knowshon Moreno—he was furious, beating out Moreno for the starting job and having his most productive season as a pro.
An angry Lamar Miller is a good thing; he has demonstrated his ability to fight through adversity, using it to his advantage. And it should be no different this year considering the fact that Miller may feel pressured by the plethora of talent that resides in Miami’s backfield.
Other than Lamar Miller, the most intriguing name surfacing around the running game is newly drafted rookie Jay Ajayi. Ajayi was an every-down back in his college days at Boise State. Many scouts believe the Dolphins got a steal in this years draft, drafting Ajayi in the fifth round. This type of talented back is normally not around the third day of the draft, unless there’s a catch. Is there a catch? Why yes, of course there is: Ajayi has suffered through cartilage issues since injuring his right knee in October of 2011.
“I would tell you, if he’s cranking and he got it 24 times a game and he’s healthy and he’s fast and he’s explosive, it doesn’t bother me one bit”–Joe Philbin
Although Ajayi was still very productive at Boise State—becoming the only back in FBS history with 1,800 yards rushing and 500 yards receiving in the same season—it didn’t seem to matter. Many NFL teams were scared to draft a running back with a history plagued with injury. The Dolphins can capitalize on the chance other teams weren’t willing to take. Ajayi possesses every attribute you want in an NFL running back: size, speed, agility, and vision. If Miami wants to succeed more in the red-zone, then giving the ball to Ajayi could be a nice option.
Making up the rest of the backfield for the Dolphins aren’t necessarily scrubs; LaMichael James and Damian Williams have shown flashes of what they have to offer. It’s hard to forget how freakishly gifted James was in college at Oregon. If he can provide a smidgen of what he’s capable of, James, similar to Lamar Miller, can be lightning in a bottle for this offense. On the other hand, Williams proved his worth to the team. Last year, Williams first surfaced in preseason with spectacular scampers. In his small amount of playing time last year in the regular season, Williams didn’t disappoint. Known for fighting, scrapping, and crawling his way for every yard, Williams is a guy who Dolphins fans have already adopted as one of their favorite underdogs on this team.
With a defense that should sit atop the NFL, a running game could be this team’s best friend once the regular season starts. Although the attention has been drawn elsewhere, expect this group to be one of the team’s most important.