Pass blocking key to who is named Dolphins' starting RB
JUL 26, 2013 2:08p ET
DAVIE, Fla. — Lamar Miller was asked why he should be the starting running back this season for the Miami Dolphins.
"I'm fast," Miller said. "I can catch the ball out of the backfield."
OK, sounds good. Is that all?
"I'm still trying get better at pass protection and just reading my blocks, so I can take my game to the next level," Miller said.
There you have it. Miller, a second-year pro, is battling third-year man Daniel Thomas to replace the departed Reggie Bush as Miami’s primary back. Both have shown solid flashes of running and catching the ball.
But the competition could come down to blocking. Dolphins coach Joe Philbin has made it clear he's not keen on having a feature back who isn't versatile.
"You can't really put a running back on the field (who is) not going to be part of the protection,’’ Philbin said Friday after a workout at training camp. "Those guys on defense are smart enough to study jersey numbers and they'll look at your tendencies and if every time a particular player is in the game, all you do is run him or all you do is not give him any protection responsibility, they'll be able to scheme those things."
Miller, a former University of Miami star, carried 51 times for 250 yards last season for a fine 4.9 average. But he struggled at times with pass protection.
Thomas is not as flashy of a runner as Miller, having carried 256 times for 906 yards (3.5 average) in his career. But he's a slightly better pass protector and also could be a slightly better receiver.
The general consensus is Miller, because he's the better runner, has a leg up on Thomas for the job. But Thomas doesn't buy that, saying, "I don't take a back seat to anyone."
Of course, the guy who really counts in making the decision is Philbin. He says the competition is wide open.
"There's a lot of football yet before Sept. 8, and we have five preseason games," said Philbin, whose team opens the preseason Aug. 4 in the Hall of Fame Game against Dallas and the regular season Sept. 8 at Cleveland.
Replacing Bush, who bolted to Detroit as a free agent, is one of the top questions facing the Dolphins during training camp. Bush ran for 2,072 yards in two Miami seasons.
“You have concerns because they haven't produced,’’ ESPN analyst Cris Carter, who will be inducted next week into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, said Friday about the two young backs while visiting Miami’s practice complex.
Carter suggested the two could split the load. But Miller could emerge as the top guy if he can continue to improve his pass blocking, which was mediocre as a rookie.
"Obviously, that's something I've been working on since I've been in college," Miller said. "There's always room for improvement in this league. You got to be able to protect the quarterback."
Miller and Thomas sound as if they compared notes.
"You got to be able to protect the quarterback," Thomas said about a key to winning the job. "The coaches take that one seriously, and that's one thing I got to separate myself (on)."
Miami signal caller Ryan Tannehill, who has gained free-agent signees Mike Wallace and Brandon Gibson at wide receiver and Dustin Keller at tight end, figures to throw a good bit more than last season. And, yep, Tannehill also has said pass protection could decide the competition at running back.
If he wants to win and hold onto the job, Thomas also needs to remain healthy. He's missed seven games due to injuries in his first two seasons.
"I need to say away from those nagging injuries and continue to improve," Thomas said.
So far so good. Thomas hasn't missed any time in camp.
While Miller and Thomas are battling it out, they've maintained a good friendship. They hang out regularly off the field. But they don't talk about the competition for the starting job.
"Not at all," Miller said.
"We've got a friendship off the field, so we know to draw the line with that," Thomas said.
If the two ever do talk about their battle, it might not be too hard to figure out what is discussed.