Part three of a seven-part series previewing the Miami Dolphins. The articles will focus on dissecting the team’s most crucial positions before the start of training camp.
Part Three: The Running Backs
The Miami Dolphins are a running team plain and simple. They don’t have the receivers or the quarterback to spread the field like New England or Arizona but the “Wildcat” might be changing the way NFL teams run the football.
Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams combined for 1,575 yards and 14 touchdowns. When they ran out of the “Wildcat” formation they averaged 6.4 yards a carry. It is so exciting to watch and it drives defenses crazy. Brown controlled the formation and it was primarily used to run. This year opponents will be more prepared.
One concern is that the running attack is depending on the middle of the offensive line to stay healthy this year. Justin Smiley and Jake Grove are coming back from injuries and Donald Thomas might be ready for the start of the season after a pectoral tear.
Brown is entering the final year of his contract, he wants to be regarded as an elite running back and he should be. In 2007 he was on his way to stardom but was cut down by a knee injury. He totaled 991 yards in seven games as the primary back in 2007. After splitting carries last season he looks primed to carry this offense.
He has shown he can handle the running aspects of the “Wildcat” but only threw three times from the formation. It is still uncertain what his roll in the formation will be because the organization is guarding those plans like the Arc of the Covenant.
The Dolphins need Ronnie to be effective in more traditional running formations. With out the “Wildcat” Miami’s rushing attack was mostly ineffective. Grove was brought in to fix that problem and there should be no more excuses now that Samson Satele is gone.
If Brown wants to be considered an elite runner he will have this is the perfect year to do it. Ricky Williams seems to be declining at age 32 while Brown has shined in offseason workouts.
Williams should resume his role as the primary back up for one more year. He could see a decrease in playing time as offensive coordinator Dan Henning tries to use all his new weapons. Pat White will eventually work his way into the “Wildcat” which could push Ricky out.
According to Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald, head coach Tony Sparano would love to give Patrick Cobbs more carries. The five-foot-eight roadrunner from North Texas had 16 tackles on special teams and could be more involved in the “Wildcat” this year.
Cobbs can be effective if the Dolphins copy what San Diego did with Darren Sproles. Miami’s special teams unit was horrible last year and his role as a kick-off return man should increase with Ted Ginn Jr. and Davone Bess becoming more active in the passing game.
He could develop into the perfect complement to Ronnie Brown and that could happen as soon as this year. The “Wildcat” is based on creating mismatches and Henning needs his most dangerous pieces on the field to make it work.
Lex Hilliard spent last year on the practice squad and considering the depth at running back he could be headed back to the practice squad this year. The Dolphins also have rookie free agent Anthony Kimble who could challenge Hilliard for that spot on the squad.
If Ronnie Brown wants to be an elite running back he will need Lousaka Polite. Emmitt Smith had Daryl Johnston, Lorenzo Neal paved the way for LaDainian Tomlinson and Eddie George. Good blocking fullbacks can do wonders for a running back.
Polite was nearly perfect on third-and-one and forth-and-one situations last year. He did not play in 2007 after spending three years with Parcells in Dallas. Polite’s success in short-yardage situations could tempt Sparano to us him on the goal line.
The rushing attack will be vastly improved if the line holds up and if Ronnie Brown takes the bulk of the carries. Cobbs and White will get involved but Brown is the going to carry the offense this year.
Sparano likes to rotate his running backs and Brown has the most talent. It is time to take the training wheels off and let him go.
This series will continue every Monday and Friday in July only on The Bleacher Report. Look for Part Four: The Defensive Backs on Friday July 17th.