As the Dolphins continue OTAs this morning, we continue to take a look at the state of their franchise position by position.
Today, we evaluate the team’s backfield, which will feature a new starter at running back in 2013 after Reggie Bush signed with the Detroit Lions this offseason.
The Dolphins won’t have a proven starter running the football when they face off in Cleveland vs. the Browns come Week 1. But highly productive backs come from seemingly nowhere every season in the NFL. And there’s no reason to believe the Dolphins, with young, promising backs like Lamar Miller and Mike Gillislee, will be the exception to that trend.
Running back: Lamar Miller
Fullback: Jorvorskie Lane
As expected, Lamar Miller was seen lining up with the first team for the majority of yesterday’s practice. Miller was very solid as a rookie despite limited action, highlighted by averaging 4.9 yards per carry.
Frankly, I would have liked to see Miller steal a few more of Reggie Bush’s touches a year ago, as he was, in my humble opinion, the more consistent runner. Its Miller’s job to lose this season and it would likely take considerable digression on his part to become vulnerable to being replaced.
The real competition will take place for the number two role where Daniel Thomas and Mike Gillislee should square off for the right to become Miller’s sidekick and the offense’s short-yardage back.
At fullback, Jorvorskie Lane was a serviceable player for the Dolphins in 2012. If he keeps his weight down and continues to improve his technique as a lead blocker, he’ll have every opportunity to keep his job. But the Dolphins brought in Rupert Bryan and Ina Liaina this offseason to compete at the position.
Solid starters: Lamar Miller
League average: Jorvorskie Lane
Backup material: Daniel Thomas, Mike Gillislee, Marcus Thigpen, Jonas Gray
Camp bodies: Cameron Marshall, Rupert Bryan, Ina Liaina
Evaluating the running back position requires playing by a slightly different set of rules. At every other position these posts have attempted to be a snapshot of where the team and players are currently. But at running back, a position where fielding fresh legs is arguably more important than employing proven veterans, we can base these evaluations more on potential than normal.
And while Lamar Miller’s 51 carries in 2012 hardly constitute concrete evidence suggesting he is a solid NFL starter, he flashed enough potential as a rookie to project that he will be. Miller possesses the speed and elusiveness to be a home-run hitter, but he’s also big enough to run between the tackles. With good health, there’s no reason to believe the former Hurricane and Miami native won’t run for his first 1,000-yard season in 2013.
Behind Miller, there is a little more uncertainty. Daniel Thomas hasn’t done anything to secure the number two role based on his first two seasons of play. He’s been injured too often, has had ball security issues, and overall, he’s just been incredibly inconsistent, indicated by his career average of 3.5 yards per attempt.
Fifth-round pick Mike Gillislee will have an opportunity to pass Thomas on the depth chart. I wouldn’t rule out Typer Thigpen or Jonas Gray stealing Thomas’ carries, either.
(Scale: Super Bowl caliber, playoff caliber, middle of the road, below league average, poor)
Running back: Middle of the road
If this evaluation was solely based on the Dolphins starting running back, I’d be comfortable giving the position a playoff-caliber grade. But because we’re considering the entire running back committee here, I’m not sold on whoever the team’s short-yardage back will be.
Daniel Thomas gets one more chance to prove himself. But after two seasons, he hasn’t done enough to suggest he can be the guy. And while University of Florida product Mike Gillislee has potential, he’s yet to tote the rock in the NFL.
Fullback: Middle of the road
The position is becoming closer to obsolete as the league gravitates more and more towards spread concepts. But the Dolphins are one of the remaining teams that still utilize a fullback.
Jorvorskie Lane did some good things last season, de-cleating a defender on more than one occasion as a lead blocker and he even managed to run for two touchdowns while being on the receiving end of another.
Backfield: Middle of the road
We’ll have to stick with a middle of the road Dolphins backfield for now. If Lamar Miller excels as the starting running back like I expect him to that will change. If either Daniel Thomas or Mike Gillislee are able to surface as a touchdown producing, first-down converting complement to Miller that will change.
But let’s not forget that their production will be contingent on play in the trenches. Pro Bowl left tackle Jake Long is gone. There is expected to be two if not three new starters on the line. It’s a unit that needs to gel in order for the Dolphins to maximize the potential of their backs.
Despite parting ways with Reggie Bush this offseason, Miami still has a talented backfield that is capable of producing at a high level. If the Dolphins aren’t able to run the football consistently in 2013, chances are the offensive line will deserve more of the blame than Miami’s stable of backs.