The Miami Dolphins entered the 2014 offseason with a group of running backs who had been disappointing yet difficult to evaluate due to the disaster of an offensive line (a well documented saga).
The Dolphins added Knowshon Moreno, a former Denver Bronco who provided 1,586 all-purpose yards in 2013, to provide a veteran presence to a young group that seemed wide-eyed and lost at times in 2013. Moreno is very good at every duty of being a running back from carrying the ball to pass protecting, but he isn't the flashiest player.
Moreno joins Lamar Miller, last year's starter, Daniel Thomas, a former second round pick who has a career average of only 3.6 yards per carry, Mike Gillislee, a 2013 fifth round pick, and two undrafted rookies, Orleans Darkwa and Damien Williams in a now-loaded Dolphins' backfield.
All of the backs (hold Moreno) have impressed during the summer drills, but pads won't be worn until training camp, which is when we'll get a real feel for who can really play.
Unfortunately for Moreno, a knee injury has been holding him back and may be the reason he has been out of shape at camp. However, the extent of this injury isn't truly known and Moreno will visit a doctor next week to determine if he needs arthroscopic knee surgery.
This had many stirred up that the Dolphins could have big problems in the backfield again. As I disagreed, as I usually do with things, I wondered who would be the best back for the Dolphins offense....
Moreno, as reliable as he is, isn't really suited for this type of offense, which has been described multiple times by an array of people in simply one word, "fast."
John Benton, the Dolphins' new offensive line coach, brings his "wide-zone" scheme to Miami which stretches the defense out more than a regular zone-blocking scheme and really puts a running back who can burst around the edge of the defense in a position to thrive.
That's where Lamar Miller comes in.
Miller, who runs a 4.40 in the 40-yard dash, had some of his most impressive and productive runs on stretch plays where he was able to use his speed to beat defenders to the edge and then turn up field for positive yardage. This new offense will allow him to have the option on most runs to use his speed to burst outside or pick his holes inside if the defense overcommits to sealing to the edge.
Miller is the most talented of all the running backs on the team and he took the most NFL snaps out of every running back on the roster not named Moreno in 2013. Miller has a chance to really thrive in this offense.
What about pass protection you say?
That is not the issue anymore because, unless the offensive line rebuild goes awry, the running backs will not be staying in to block very much.
New offensive coordinator Bill Lazor loves to send his running backs out as receivers and design plays for them catching the ball coming out of the backfield. Miller's issue won't be as much with pass protection as it will be with catching the football in this offense.
Daniel Thomas doesn't fit this offense that well as he isn't much swifter than Moreno and he also hasn't shown much as a receiver, never tallying over 15 catches in a season. Thomas is said to be grinding hard to resurrect his career, but his roster spot is currently in jeopardy.
Gillislee has potential to be a play maker in this offense as he possesses a sub-4.5 speed, but he needs to be more consistent when the pads come on to even have a shot at seeing the field.
For Darkwa and Williams, it's all about this training camp so it would be foolish of me to talk about them contributing at all this year. Either would be lucky to make the roster but they're both practice squad candidates.
Marcus Thigpen, though technically a wide receiver now, is a name that intrigues me a lot in this offense. Thigpen, who has blazing speed, is a wildcard in this offense as I think he will be one of the players who sees the field in multiple positions, motioning from the slot to the backfield and all sorts of creativity of that nature to take advantage of his skill set.
With all that being said, Moreno will likely still get his fair share of carries as he is an excellent pass catcher who will still be effective running the ball in the wide-zone scheme due to his vision to find holes as a ball carrier.
However, Moreno does need to get healthy as his injury doesn't open up the door for Miller, who was already ahead of him. It opens the door for Thomas, Gillislee or an undrafted rookie to leapfrog him on the depth chart, take snaps from him during the season or, worst case scenario, take his roster spot altogether.
Moreno has five weeks to rehabilitate before the start of Dolphins training camp, which is when backs will begin to separate themselves.
As it stands now Miller is the best candidate to start even with a healthy Moreno, but Moreno will be an important role player and likely will play in pivotal third down situations.
Miller needs to hone a few things in his game such as catching passes and finishing runs, but this third-year back has huge potential in this offense.
I can tell you this now, Dolphin fans; Get excited about Lamar Miller now because he is going to have a big year.