This training camp is extremely important for Miami Dolphins' running back/ wide receiver/ returner Marcus Thigpen, the dynamic former Canadian Football League standout.
Many view Thigpen simply as a roster spot that would be better used on another player. Many completely discount Thigpen, the first player to score a touchdown in five different ways in the CFL, and his electrifying abilities.
Many forget that it was Thigpen who scored the game-winning touchdown pass against the New England Patriots on a type of route which will be a staple in the Dolphins' new offense, ran by OC Bill Lazor.
It's these "many" that Thigpen will have the opportunity to make eat their words when the regular season rolls around. In order for Thigpen to do that, however, he will need to prove his worth in training camp.
After making the team as a CFL signee in 2012, Thigpen entered the season as the new returner, taking the job from Davone Bess. Thigpen, a relative unknown, scored a touchdown on a punt return in his first regular season game with the Dolphins.
Thigpen topped off that season with a kickoff return for a touchdown in Week 9 to give him two return touchdowns on the year and give him an average of 12.2 yards per return on punts and 27.4 yards per return on kickoffs. Thigpen contributed only one catch and one run on offense.
However, Thigpen's play took a dip in 2013. Thigpen's averages dropped about five yards on both kickoff and punt returns (22.5 and 7.8 respectively). It's for this reason that when you see Thigpen's name this offseason it's usually related to the topic of him being replaced as a returner.
I have three statements to make about this replacing Thigpen at returner. 1) Was it simply a sophomore slump for Thigpen? How quickly they forget 2012, 2) Thigpen is the best returner on the team and will retain his job if he can prove his offensive potential, 3) Thigpen's worth doesn't only come as a returner.
Thigpen, while regressing a bit a returner, showed that he can have an impact on offense in 2013. While not doing an incredible amount, he increased his touches sevenfold (eight catches, six runs).
Thigpen took advantage of the limited opportunities he was given, producing a 50-yard reception against the New Orleans Saints and the previously mentioned game-winning touchdown grab against the New England Patriots.
Thigpen will be able to increase his touches/ production with a solid training camp. What does he need to prove you say?
There are three main things that I want to see Thigpen do:
Thigpen needs to consistently win his matchups in training camp. Whether lined up at running back or slot receiver, Thigpen will need to prove to coaches he can consistently win on his routes (especially when facing linebackers in man coverage).
Thigpen, in my eyes, will be lined up from in the backfield most of the time as this is where the best matchups can be found and it allows him to operate in space (one of his main strengths). Whether facing a linebacker or a nickel back, Thigpen will have optimum space for getting open when coming out of the backfield.
Thigpen needs to prove he can run for positive yards. Thigpen averages 3.7 yards on his seven career rushes, but they were very inconsistent runs. Many were for negative or no yardage while his overall average was lifted by a few respectable runs.
If Thigpen wants to solidify his spot in the Dolphins' roster, he will need to prove he can take a wide-stretch play around the edge for a positive gain if it was audibled to (Thigpen would be used moslty in pass plays, but if an opposing defense dictates running the ball then Thigpen needs to be able to carry the rock effectively).
Thigpen needs to prove he still has the invigorating abilities that he showed in his "rookie" season. If Thigpen, who is 28 years old entering his third season, has lost a step then the first two expectations on this list will be extremely difficult to make happen.
Thigpen's explosive ability is what makes this 5'9" football player valuable. Whether as a returner or on offense, his exhilarating abilities give Thigpen an advantage over other players.
Many are looking at ways to replace Thigpen, but really they should be looking into all the things Thigpen can do and the different ways he could help the team if used correctly. The Dolphins may have their own Darren Sproles just waiting to be unleashed on the league, especially in an offense that is so suited for Thigpen's skill set.
However, Thigpen will need to prove to the coaching staff that he can be trusted. Thigpen has a huge training camp ahead of him with a lot to prove. If he succeeds, he will be on well his way to eating up linebackers attempting to cover him.
Thigpen has potential to be a matchup nightmare. It's up to him to prove that he is not only worth the roster spot, but also that he can provide game-changing plays. Time will tell, but I love the prospect of Thigpen in this offense that will feature many designed passes to running backs.