The battle at the running back position certainly is one of the most talked about subjects heading into OTA’s and training camp. It should be a spirited campaign. In my opinion, it is the most wide open position battle on either side of the ball.
Lamar Miller enters camp as the presumed front-runner. The Dolphins thought enough of Miller that they did not try to resign Reggie Bush, nor did they make a big attempt to sign a veteran free agent running back, this off season. Miller showed glimpses last year against Oakland and the Jets, early in the season, but as fans we saw little after that. The Miami Herald’s Armando Salguero tweeted out in January when comparing Miller to Bush. ”…team thinks Lamar Miller, who's bigger and faster, could be better.” I’m excited about Miller this season. I was excited when the Fins moved up in last years draft to take him. I expect Miller to win the lead running back role and should get about 60% of the running back touches.
Daniel Thomas is supposed to be the power runner / short yardage back for the Fins. He has had 2 full seasons, and quite frankly, I don’t see it. Occasionally he shows glimpses, but they ‘re few and far between. He has battled injuries and fumbling problems. He turns his back to the line of scrimmage way way way too much for me. (Did I mention he turns his back too much?). Thomas is my bet for being the odd man out He was not a Philbin selection. My bet is that Thomas does not make the final 53-man roster barring an injury to another back or dramatic improvement during training camp.
Jonas Gray is intriguing to me to say the least. His numbers steadily improved in college, and he seemed to have a nose for the end zone. 114 carries for 791 yards (6.9 Avg.), his senior year at Notre Dame, scoring 12 TD’s. A knee injury late in his senior year caused him to go undrafted. At 5’10’’ and 225lbs, he needs to embrace his roll as the “big” back in the system. His biggest problem may be keeping healthy.
Marcus Thigpen is an absolute wildcard. He is obviously the Dolphins top kickoff and punt returner (especially PR since Bess has been traded) but is he more? He recently said he wants to be the #1 running back. There was plenty of talk last season about using him in the slot. Could Offensive coordinator Mike Sherman find multiple ways to use Thigpen, like Percy Harvin or Randall Cobb? (Or like many fans wanted Bush to be used like last season.) Maybe, occasionally lining Thigpen up in the backfield, or in the slot would give the defenses a little more to worry about. With a year of experience under his belt, Philbin and company may trust him enough to use him in many ways, but as the feature back, who knows?
Mike Gillislee is the newest and latest running back in the Fins stable. Labeled as an exceptional pass blocker, immediately one considers him a third down back. He waited his time at Florida, and did not carry the load until his senior year, but carry the load he did. He rushed for 1152 yards as a senior, scoring 10 rushing TD’s along the way. How quickly Gillislee picks up his blocking assignments may determine how much of the field he will see this season.
It will be interesting to watch the running back battle unfold this summer. I can’t wait!
Carl C. Crowley