Is Lex Hilliard's future in jeopardy with Jerome Messam coming to Miami? (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Much has been made of Jerome Messam coming to Miami and many have wondered how he will fit the team. Some think of him as a RB that will replace Steve Slaton, now a free agent. Some think he will come in and compete with Lex Hilliard. Those that think he's here to compete with Lex Hilliard for the FB position are most likely correct. Because of their similar sizes, some think they're kind of close players. There are some benefits though that could give Messam the upper hand.
1) Blocking: With the offense Philbin will use in Miami, it'll be important to have a back that does a good job of blocking, specifically in pass protection. Messam is a good pass blocker and with the CFL being a league that relies on the pass even more than the NFL, Messam has a lot of experience in pass protection.
2) Receiving: While Hilliard is a bowling ball of sorts and can run hard, he's not exactly a threat in the passing game. He has good hands, but he's limited with his ability to run after the catch. He doesn't have much speed or shiftiness. Messam has good speed and agility for a player his size and is more of a threat after the catch. With a West Coast Offense, Miami will likely want to get more versatility out of their FB.
3) Running ability: He was once a sub-4.4 runner, but he's not quite as fast as you'd think when you think of sub-4.4 runners. Still, the kid has speed and he has far more more than Hilliard does, making him much more capable in the backfield. With his ability to cut and bounce outside, he's not just a between-the-tackles type of RB that picks up short yards. While you can apply the "short yard back" label to Hilliard, you can't apply it to Messam simply because he's over 240 pounds.
4) Versatility: While Hilliard is fit for the role of a short yardage runner and a FB, Messam does have the ability to be used as either a RB or a FB. That kind of versatility could make the offense more unpredictable, especially if Messam and Reggie Bush are on the field in a split-back formation.
So what does this mean for Lex Hilliard's future in Miami? Well, Messam may not actually knock Hilliard off the roster. Remember, Slaton is now a free agent and while he still has some potential, his role is small as he sits behind Bush and Daniel Thomas on the roster. Messam could be used to fill Slaton's role as a #3 RB or even push Thomas as the #2 RB. Likewise, he could still fill in at FB if Miami wishes to keep both Hilliard and Messam. Why would they do that you ask? Well, Hilliard may be a superior run blocker, but there could be situations where we could see Messam lined up at RB and Hilliard at FB if Miami is in a power formation. If Messam surpasses Thomas as the #2 RB, that could be used for some goalline formations and 3rd-and-shorts.
There are legitimate concerns about Messam's maturity though. He's had his fair share of fights, including bar fights, and was criticized for bringing a woman into the B.C. Lions' team dorms. He became so much of a headache that not only did the front office and the coaching staff wanted him gone, but his Lion teammates want him gone as well. You know you're in a terrible situation when even your teammates want you out of the locker room. After being traded to Edmonton, Messam did make some statements saying that he wished he was smarter with his decisions and was thankful to have a second chance. He kept his nose clean with Edmonton, but will it last, especially when you have much better bars in Miami?
While Messam's contract details have yet to be released, the contract is not expected to be expensive. Hilliard is a RFA and won't receive a large tender so both players will be cheap and can be kept on the roster. This will give Miami plenty of time in July and August to determine the roles for both Messam and Hilliard. I wouldn't expect a huge breakout like Cameron Wake, but he could have a solid impact in Miami like Philbin had with John Kuhn in Green Bay.