Continuing my 30 for 30 NFL Preview Event, I am previewing the Miami Dolphins positions as camp gets underway. Today I will be looking at the running backs.
On September 21, 2008, I attended the Dolphins game vs. the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro. Going into the contest, the Patriots were winners of 21 consecutive regular season games. In the same span, the Dolphins posted an abysmal 1-20 mark.
The Dolphins had little hope for the season, and the game looked to be a blowout.
But in the first quarter, running back Ronnie Brown lined up in the shotgun formation. Taking the direct snap, he faked a handoff and scampered into the end zone for a touchdown, and with that, the entire franchise changed.
Brown went on to take part in all five of Miami’s touchdowns from that formation that day, rushing for four and throwing for one en route to a 38-13 Dolphins rout. It would be called the "Wildcat," and it defined the Dolphins as they made an improbable run to the playoffs.
A complete contrast to the gun-slinging days of Dan Marino, the Dolphins became a dominant running team, and the wildcat was their ace in the hole.
Other teams have tried to replicate it. Some even had marginal success, but no team matched Miami’s execution.
Today, Miami has toned down their wildcat usage and they sport more of a balanced offense. This is due to a number of factors.
The emergence of quarterback Chad Henne and the acquisition of All-Pro receiver Brandon Marshall have given Miami a downfield option that they have not seen since No. 13 retired. In addition, Pro Bowl running back Ronnie Brown is coming off his second season-ending injury in the last three years.
Brown has all the skills to be an elite back, and he mastered the wildcat like no other, but he can never stay on the field.
In his five-year career, Brown has only played in all 16 games only once. It's no coincidence that this was his only season that ended in a trip to the NFL's All-Star game.
Luckily, if Brown goes down again, Miami has arguably the best backup running back behind him in Ricky Williams.
Although Ricky is one the most enigmatic players in the NFL, you cannot question his talent. If he had his head into the game, I’m certain that he would be going to Canton in about 10 years. He will once again carry the load with Brown, and will be relied upon to take over if he should go down with injury.
While Brown and Williams have been a terrific one-two punch, third back Patrick Cobbs may be the most underrated player on the Dolphins.
He has delivered some big plays out of the wildcat, but his blocking is what made the formation go. When he got injured last year, the formation struggled, even more than it did after Brown got hurt. If healthy, he will be a big player in the offense in 2010.
While the rest of the halfbacks don’t look to do much this season, fullback Lousaka Polite is one of the best in the business.
Like Cobbs, his blocking out of the backfield is a major contributor to the running game. He also is a master at the short yardage carry. He was a major Pro Bowl snub last season by not getting voted to the squad, but if he keeps it up this year he will get his due.