Two weeks ago, the Dolphins decided to work out LaMichael James, a former 2012 second round pick of the San Francisco 49'ers. At the time, Knowshon Moreno had recently suffered an elbow injury, Lamar Miller was dealing with an ankle injury, and the Dolphins had re-signed Daniel Thomas just weeks after cutting him at the end of training camp. Moreover, rookie returner Jarvis Landry was making mistakes on kick returns that came in the form of both fumbles and questionable decisions to field the ball near the goal line. The Dolphins' interest in signing James made a lot of sense back then given that the remainder of the running back depth chart consisted of two undrafted rookies in Damien Williams and Orleans Darkwa, neither of whom were ready to start games if Miller's injury turned out to be serious. Discussions between the Dolphins and James eventually broke off without a deal because James wanted time to consider his options.
Today, the Dolphins' outlook at running back is much improved. Miller's ankle injury turned out to be minor, he's posted two very effective games as a runner in the 2 weeks since that injury, and he hasn't dropped a pass over that stretch. Meanwhile, Moreno is no longer wearing an elbow brace and hopes to be medically cleared to make his return to live-game action in 2 weeks when the Dolphins face the Green Bay Packers. Thomas has been very effective as both a runner and a receiver in the backup running back role. Last but not least, Williams has continued to flash potential in limited touches.
So the running back situation looks far less dire now than it did two weeks ago. However, kick returns continue to be a problem with Landry mixing in the occasional good return with continued unreliability in fielding kicks. In addition, Miller's increased sure-handedness as a receiver for the past 2 weeks doesn't change the fact that the Dolphins could probably use a dynamic pass-catching option at the running back position. With that in mind, the Dolphins today have signed LaMichael James to the practice squad, according to Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald.
James' strengths dating back to college are his elusiveness with the ball in his hands, which makes him an effective option as a receiver and returner, plus underrated toughness when running in between the tackles despite his relatively small frame at 5'9", 194 pounds. James has averaged 28.4 yards per return on 26 kickoff returns and a 10.9 yards per return on the 23 punts he's fielded, so he could potentially help on special teams on short notice. He's unlikely to be seen on offense very soon because James must now begin to learn Lazor's playbook from scratch. The good news is that as a member of the practice squad, James doesn't occupy a spot on the 53-man roster as he takes time to get familiar with Lazor's system. In a couple of weeks, if Miller's drop issues return, or if Landry continues to struggle as a returner, the Dolphins could promote James to the 53-man roster on short-notice.
However, there are 2 main reasons why James went unsigned for so long despite his talent. The first issue is that he's been fumble prone in very limited touches, which is not uncommon for younger running backs. Secondly, when the 49'ers refused to expand his role on offense, James wasn't shy in voicing his discontent. Coaches don't like running backs who either fumble frequently or complain, so a young player who does too much of both isn't going to be in high demand even if he's talented.
Still, James agreeing to join the Dolphins practice squad is a sign he's willing to accept a reduced role, which is a good first step. While Thomas and Miller have made nice contributions in the passing game the past 2 weeks, neither has the elusiveness of James in the open field. This is the rare practice squad signing that could end up paying big dividends in the not too distant future if James showcases playmaking ability with the ball in his hands in practice and concentrates on fixing his fumbling issues.