The Miami Dolphins running back core is looking a little thinner than it has in recent years, but the unit is still one of the strengths of the team.
Starter Ronnie Brown and third-stringer Patrick Cobbs are both returning from serious injuries and might not be fully recovered by the time the 2010 season begins. Brown is coming off a LisFranc fracture on his right foot and Cobbs is returning from a torn ACL.
While both are ahead of schedule in their recoveries, they come into the season as question marks.
For most players, an ACL tear takes more than a year to fully recover from. LisFranc fractures are not common and if not allowed to properly heal, can linger for awhile. The Dolphins can’t count on either player to be 100 percent by the time training camp arrives.
Luckily for Miami, Ricky Williams reminded the league he still has gas in the tank. Though he’ll be 33 in May, Williams has much less wear than your average NFL back over the age of 30.
Remember, Williams retired following the 2003 season and the roller coaster ride that followed, saw the former Heisman Trophy winner play in only 13 games between 2004 and 2007.
Last season, Williams rushed for 1121 yards and 11 touchdowns. He added 264 receiving yards and another two touchdowns in what was his most productive campaign since his 2003 retirement.
Look for the Dolphins to lean on him early in the year as Brown and Cobbs are brought back into the mix slowly. The team doesn’t need to rush things, especially with the severity of their injuries.
Williams is more than capable of handling the lion’s share of the running back snaps in the meantime.
Beyond him, former practice squad member Lex Hilliard emerged as a solid contributor in the last seven games of the year. Hilliard had 247 yards from scrimmage and three total touchdowns during that stretch. He showed great promise as a receiving threat out of the backfield and demonstrated good power moves when given the chance for extended touches.
While Hilliard will be fourth on the depth chart once Brown and Cobbs return, the Dolphins will hold onto the second-year player for insurance purposes. Don't expect the team to select a running back in the draft, there won't be room on the roster.
As for the team's fullback, yes this is the running back review, but Lousaka Polite needs to fit in somewhere.
The 28-year-old was listed by Peter King of Sports Illustrated and John Clayton of ESPN as the top fullback in the league. When the Dolphins need a yard or less, he's the guy they go to. He's never failed to make the distance so far, and his blocking is up there with the best of them.
At fullback, Miami is sitting pretty.
With Brown entering the last year of his contract and Williams a few years on the wrong side of 30, the Dolphins will need to find answers at the position for future seasons, but not just yet.
For the present time, Williams should hold down the fort until Brown is fully recovered. Cobbs and Hilliard fill out the unit, but their contributions will be seen more on special teams. Cobbs is beast on kick coverage.
While Brown seeks a long-term deal, he’ll have to prove himself on the field before the Dolphins show him any commitment.
Bill Parcells has never been fond of injury-prone players and that’s exactly what Brown has been thus far: He’s played just one full season in his career. The former Pro Bowler is an elite talent, but he’s got to prove he can stay healthy or this may be his last year in Miami.
Expect Ronnie to deliver in a big way in 2010. He’s playing behind one of the best offensive lines in the league and is eager to silence his critics. It may take a career year for him to be resigned, but don’t surprised if that’s exactly what happens.
Running Backs Grade: B+