Dolphins' Interest in Wallace, Parting with Bush Signals Shift to Passing Game

Erik Frenz@ErikFrenzSenior Writer IMarch 11, 2013

CINCINNATI, OH - OCTOBER 21:  Mike Wallace #17 of the Pittsburgh Steelers runs with the ball during the NFL game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium on October 21, 2012 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

For years, the Miami Dolphins have been thought of as a run-first team.

With the reported string of moves on the way, those days could be long gone.

The rumors have floated constantly that the Dolphins would target ex-Steelers wide receiver Mike Wallace once the speedster hit the open market. Meanwhile, the speculation has stood strong that the Dolphins would part ways with running back Reggie Bush

Both those hypotheticals seem on the verge of becoming reality.

ESPN is reporting that the Dolphins are the front-runners for Wallace, while The Palm Beach Post is reporting that the signing is virtually a "done deal." Meanwhile, The Miami Herald is reporting that the market is strong for Bush, which likely means he's on his way out of Miami.

Out with the featured tailback, in with the No. 1 wideout. That sounds like a philosophical shift if I've ever seen one, and the numbers should bear that out.

The signs began as soon as the Dolphins moved on from former head coach Tony Sparano that they would begin trending away from the running game. The Dolphins signed head coach Joe Philbin and offensive coordinator Mike Sherman, two known proponents of the passing game, and the writing has been on the wall for Bush ever since.

Their arrival didn't mark an immediate shift, but it did mark the beginning of what seemed like a falling-out with the coaching staff.

The Dolphins also drafted Miami running back Lamar Miller in the fourth round last year. With virtually the same skill set, albeit on a perhaps less elite level, the Dolphins could get him involved as a boundary runner and in the passing game in many of the same ways as Bush, with 2011 second-round pick Daniel Thomas making up the difference between the tackles.

Thomas hasn't been effective yet, and Miller hasn't been utilized much, but as of now, they are the one-two punch in the Dolphins' backfield.

The Miami Herald also reported that the Dolphins are interested in ex-Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall, but read the post before you get too excited about another former first-round pick in the backfield. The bottom line on Mendenhall is, even if they went after him, it wouldn't necessarily give them any sort of resolution at running back. 

None of that changes this simple fact: Bush was the team's second-most explosive playmaker, with 40 total plays of 10 yards or more last season (28 rushes plus 12 receptions for 40 total, behind Brian Hartline's 44 receptions). With him potentially out, they'll have to make up the difference somehow.

Enter Wallace, who the Dolphins clearly hope plays more like he did in 2010 than he did in 2012. He didn't have nearly as many big plays as he did in '10, when he recorded a ridiculous 21 yards per reception, and as Doug Kyed of points out, his production dropped off dramatically when Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger wasn't on the field in 2012. Wallace can't do it on his own.

The onus will be on quarterback Ryan Tannehill to make a big jump in his second year. He'll be expected to do major damage with his new weapon. Although he didn't throw the ball deep very often (10.5 percent of his attempts traveling 20 yards or more through the air), he had a high accuracy rate on such throws (ranked ninth with 43.1 percent accuracy, with drops counting as completions).

Defenses might key in more on the passing game and could be sending more pressure Tannehill's way as a result. That would be a mistake from this view. He was the second-most accurate quarterback under pressure last season (72.9 percent), behind only Robert Griffin III.

When those same defenses start to back off, though, that's when the Dolphins will truly be tested. We've seen Tannehill do a good deal of damage while on the move, and we've also seen Mike Wallace get open while Roethlisberger would extend the play with his legs. How does Tannehill perform when asked to stand in the pocket and fit the ball into tight windows in coverage? How does Wallace perform when asked to run crisp routes and make catches over the middle?

Well, there's one question we won't have to ask much anymore: run or pass?

Erik Frenz is the AFC East lead blogger for Bleacher Report. Be sure to follow Erik on Twitter and "like" the AFC East blog on Facebook to keep up with all the updates. Unless otherwise specified, all quotes are obtained firsthand or via team press releases.


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