With the Miami Dolphins' final preseason game looming, Head Coach Tony Sparano took time recently to review the Dolphins' running game. The Dolphins currently have five halfbacks and two fullbacks listed on their depth chart. And while there's a very good chance only one of those halfbacks do not make the 53-man roster, the Dolphins running game is still a work in progress.
And making the decisions about each of those running backs is not an easy process. "The biggest challenge is, you know, getting a chance to see enough of them when you're really trying to evaluate five or six guys at the position," Sparano said.
Thursday night's game against the Dallas Cowboys really is his last chance to see those guys.
Currently listed as the Dolphins' starting running back is former New Orleans Saints runner Reggie Bush. Having spent the majority of his career as a threat out of the backfield, and not as a "feature" back, Bush comes to Miami trying to prove his durability. Since joining the league in 2006, Bush has only played a full slate of games in one season, his rookie year.
When asked if Bush's injury history would require monitoring his carries, Sparano replied:
"Yeah, I say so. I mean, I've got to check it because, no question, I really don't have a great grasp of what the number is yet with Reggie. You know, two weeks ago, wee got him lathered up good, and thn last week, it wasn't necessarily in carries, but it was in plays he took, whatever it was, 29 plays, I think, last week. Somewhere around there. And, he was good to go there, you know, so that was good. We've been pushing the number up in practice now with that first group, having them take longer periods. I don't have a number yet, I kind of got to watch it, you know. Particularly early, when you really want to ride him early, and get him going, and that's probably where I've got to watch him the most."
With those injury concerns, and the Dolphins repeated stating that Bush is the team's starter, many wonder if Bush's status as the "feature" back is in name alone. Sparano spoke on those thoughts as well:
"I wouldn't say that, no, probably not. I would think [Bush]'s probably going to have the most touches and the most carriers. You know, now, we're going to try to get Reg involved different ways, that's not a secret, you know, but I think, a good way to get him involved is to turn and hand him the ball. Even in the game the other night, were there were not a lot of space, he took one of those runs and hit it in the middle, then bounced it when there was nothing there. He turned it into a six-yard gain, and that was really a good run, you know. I mean, from minus one yard to a six-yard gain, and that was something that even the week before against Carolina, he did and he was able to come out. I think the more times he can get him the ball in that kind of deal, the more yards the guy is going to make in some point."
The Dolphins coaching staff has also been, publicly, disappointed in the performance of second string rusher Daniel Thomas. The rookie has not been attacking the line of scrimmage, instead hesitating and being tackled early. Thomas has averaged just 3.2 yards per attempt during the first three preseason games, ranking him as the 114th highest average in the league.
However, Sparano seems happy with Thomas' development:
"You know, I mean, as of later, he's been good the last couple of weeks, you know, honestly, it was just in the beginning there it was overwhelming a bit. I think the protection thing, which is something Daniel hasn't really been asked to do a lot in college, that part of it caught him."
Sparano continued to expunge on Thomas, focusing on his practice on Tuesday:
"He ran the ball good today. He got a lot of turns out there today, so he took the ball a bunch, and you know, we did some things that way. Try to get him and Larry [Johnson], some of these guys, a few more turns, so I think whenever he gets the ball a bunch, you know, he starts to get into a bit more later and practice was good today."
Thomas remains confident in himself as well.
"I've got to get more experience and everything, but I don't doubt my abilities," he said. "The coaches don't doubt my ability, as well, so I've just got to keep on progressing week in and week out."
The Dolphins have some decisions to make about their rushing attack, starting Thursday at Sun Life Stadium. As the Cowboys come in to Miami, the coaches will be looking, not just at Bush or Thomas, but trying to determine the fate of Johnson, Lex Hilliard, and rookie Nic Grigsby, as well as if the team can carry two fullbacks in Lousaka Polite and rookie Charles Clay.
Thursday night will go a long way to clearing up the depth chart - and the football future for the Dolphins' running backs.