Improving rushing attack an obvious need for Dolphins in offseason

Miami Dolphins running backs (from left): Lamar Miller, Daniel Thomas, Mike Gillislee and Marcus Thigpen.

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To say the Miami Dolphins struggled running the ball in 2013 would be an understatement.

The Dolphins were 26th in the league with 90 rushing yards per game. Lamar Miller led the ground game with 709 yards, fewest to be team-high since the 602 yards from Ronnie Brown in 2007.

The Dolphins sure missed Reggie Bush, who had run for 1,086 and 986 yards, respectively, in his two Miami seasons before signing as a free agent with Detroit.

Improvements to the running game obviously are needed if Miami wants to contend for the AFC East title and a playoff spot in 2014.

Evaluating Miller, Daniel Thomas, etc. isn’t as simple as saying they should be replaced. Rushers need linemen to open holes, and the Dolphins’ "O" did a poor job doing that.

But even when one considers poor blocking and an inconsistent passing game, neither Miller nor Thomas proved they should be carrying the load.

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Even if open-minded, new general manager Dennis Hickey likely will look to upgrade the position.

STARTERS

Lamar Miller — Miller owned the edge for the starting job throughout training camp. His blocking supposedly had improved and his athleticism and speed offered big-play potential. Despite leading the team in rushing yards (4.0 avg.), the former Miami Hurricane had just two touchdowns and showed he still needs to work on picking up the blitz.

Daniel Thomas — Like Miller, Thomas had his moments in 2013. He rushed for 406 yards overall on 109 carries (3.7 avg.) with four TDs. Was it enough to make people forget his disappointing sophomore season? No. Thomas and Miller will have to show Hickey and new coordinator Bill Lazor they deserve to return. Then again, that could happen simply if the GM can’t find help elsewhere.

BACKUPS

Mike Gillislee — The rookie from Florida got in three late-season games after spending much of the year trying to show he could pick up the blitz and block. He ran for 21 yards on six carries (3.5 avg.). Gillislee likely will get a chance to impress Hickey and the coaching staff in OTAs and training camp.

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Marcus Thigpen — It’s nice to incorporate the punt/kick returner into the running game to try and use his explosiveness. But by no means is Thigpen the full-time answer at running back. He carried six times for 18 yards (3.0 avg.).

POSSIBLE FREE-AGENT TARGETS

There will be veterans available for Miami to consider. Among them are Jacksonville’s Maurice Jones-Drew, Denver’s Knowshon Moreno, New England’s LeGarrette Blount, Houston’s Ben Tate and Indianapolis’ Donald Brown. There’s also Oakland’s Rashad Jennings and Darren McFadden. Moreno might cost more than the Dolphins are willing to spend after a breakout season. McFadden and Tate might be too prone to injury but could come cheaper.

BEST DRAFT OPTIONS

It’s not an elite running back class, and Miami might spend their highest picks on offensive line help. Still, there are several backs the Dolphins might consider in the second or third round. The current top prospects include Arizona’s Ka’Deem Carey, LSU’s Jeremy Hill, Ohio State’s Carlos Hyde, Auburn’s Tre Mason and Washington’s Bishop Sankey.

FINAL THOUGHT

The Dolphins certainly need to improve their running game — nobody argues that. Putting together a better line is a must, but Miami also should try to find an outsider who can become the clear-cut No. 1 back.

You can follow Charlie McCarthy on Twitter @mccarthy_chas or email him at mac1763@bellsouth.net.