2011 NFL Season Preview: Sorting out the Miami Dolphins Backfield This Season
Last season, the Miami Dolphins' backfield tandem of Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams struggled to put up big numbers in the run game. The team lacked an identity in the run game week to week, leading to inconsistency in an area that previous years' teams prided themselves in.
It's a new season and Brown and Williams have moved on. During the offseason, the Dolphins went out and got a highly-touted rookie in Daniel Thomas. Miami made a trade with the New Orleans Saints to acquire the high-profile back Reggie Bush as well. Also today, it was announced that the Fins picked up former star running back Larry Johnson.
With all of these offseason changes and acquisitions, what will the Dolphins identity be running the ball in 2011?
Reggie Bush was the Dolphins biggest offseason move in 2011.
Bush brings speed and versatility to the Dolphins. His speed and flash is something the Dolphins have lacked in recent years that could spark the offense and special teams to big plays in 2011.
The biggest question for Bush is consistency and durability. In the last three seasons in New Orleans, Bush has averaged only 11 games per season. He has been frequently nicked up and there are some concerns that he will make it through as the featured back in the Dolphins system.
Bush has yet to prove that he has what it takes to be relied on to carry the workload in a backfield. The Miami Herald reported that Bush has put in extra time in the offseason to physically prepare his body for the type of abuse it will face throughout a full season.
Bush is trying to prove the detractors wrong who believe he will never be a feature-back in the NFL.
The Dolphins hope he will prove them wrong also, since they are going to heavily rely on Bush in 2011.
Daniel Thomas was drafted by the Miami Dolphins in 2nd round with the 62nd pick.
The Dolphins traded up in the draft to acquire Thomas and they believed that he would be a big, bruising back who could get chunks of yards at a time. They expected Thomas to be able to contribute immediately, however, the preseason has brought up doubts about his ability to contribute for the Dolphins right away.
During the offseason, Thomas has admitted that there is more work to be done to be ready for his first NFL season: “I feel like I’ve had pretty good practices, but it’s not where I want to be,” Thomas said. “I’m not in the shape I want to be yet. I think after the three games we have left, by the time the regular season starts, I’ll be good.”
One of the places where Thomas is lacking is in speed. He isn't the type of back who will be able to breakaway for huge runs and will likely be used for between the tackles running to power through the line.
However, in his first two preseason games of 2011, Thomas has been tentative at the line and hasn't been able to penetrate as the Dolphins have hoped so far.
Thomas will improve as he grows more accustomed to the speed and physicality of the NFL, and should make an impact behind Bush this season.
Larry Johnson spent last season out of football, after a brief stint on the Washington Redskins' roster. The Dolphins hope to resurrect Johnson's career, who hasn't contributed on any team in a significant way since 2008.
At this point, Johnson is nothing more than a reclamation project as the Miami Dolphins look to rejuvenate a former star who had much promise only a few years ago. It remains to be seen if Johnson will actually be able to contribute for the Dolphins in 2011.
He could help mentor the maturing Thomas and carry some of load until Thomas is ready to be a full-time back.
Another concern with Johnson is the off-the-field issues Johnson has had throughout his career. If these issues re-surface, Johnson's time in Miami will be short-lived.
The Dolphins expect Lex Hilliard to finally make a positive impact in 2011. For Hilliard it appears to be now-or-never time as the expectations for him to produce seem to be the highest now compared to his two previous seasons in the NFL.
Hilliard has spent much of his NFL career on the sidelines as a backup to Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams. He may see more and more goal line opportunities with Williams gone, and Thomas needing more time to be NFL ready.
More pressure will be on Hilliard since the Fins acquired Larry Johnson and if he surpasses expectation his playing time might significantly increase this season.
If he can't demonstrate that he will be a major contributor this season, he may not make the final 53-player roster on August 30.
Nic Grigsby was picked up as an undrafted rookie free agent this season by the Miami Dolphins with hopes that he would be able to bring something to the Dolphins backfield.
However, in his first two preseason games he has been a mixed bag.
Against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 1 he had 7 carries for 22 yards, but against the Carolina Panthers in Week 2 he seems to have regressed, losing a yard on 3 carries. Grigsby seems more like practice squad material at this point, if he even makes the squad.
It appears right now like head coach Tony Sparano still hasn't found the answer to the Dolphins backfield problems.
Sparano said recently, "I’m seeing more out of them every day in practice, but I really need to see it in the games at a consistent level. It’s hard because you’re running out of quarters, but we’ve got to see it. We’ll get them out there again this week. We’ll play some of these guys and see what we see.”
The backfield situation is still up in the air in Miami.
I think the Fins will probably take a long look at a lot of guys who are waived on August 30th, when teams pare their rosters down to 53.
Just like last season the Dolphins have more questions instead of answers going into 2011.