Rookie RB Mike Gillislee Must Step Up For Playoff-Hopeful Miami Dolphins

By Cody Strahm
Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Dolphins haven’t been able to run the football with any real consistency all season. A porous offensive line and less-than-stellar running corps out of the backfield has contributed to the most unreliable rushing attack in team history, which was at its worse in Week 10 when the Dolphins ran for a mere two yards — the lowest single-game total the franchise has ever seen.

The result has placed the onus on second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill to move the football, often with zero balance offensively, for the Dolphins to put points on the board. That has proven too tall of an order for offensive coordinator Mike Sherman‘s unit all season, especially when Miami holds a comfortable lead and is unable to ice the game with productive, clock-killing runs.

The month of November has been especially cruel to the Dolphins’ running game as the team lost three starting offensive linemen. Right tackle Jonathan Martin left the team, left guard Richie Incognito was suspended for supposedly bullying him into doing so, and center Mike Pouncey has missed the past two weeks with a gallbladder issue.

The hits just keep on coming for the Dolphins’ ground game, however, as running back Daniel Thomas reportedly tore ligaments in his left ankle during Sunday’s 20-16 loss to the Carolina Panthers, which will sideline the former second-round pick for the duration of the year. The Dolphins obviously weren’t able to run the ball with much success with Thomas, but he would have likely been relied upon down the stretch in cold-weather games.

To qualify for the postseason, the Dolphins will be required to run the football with at least moderate success, especially in games where throwing it will be difficult given the conditions. Trips to New Jersey, Pittsburgh and Buffalo remain on the slate in December. If the Dolphins can’t establish the run in those climates, they’ll be putting too much pressure on Tannehill and their defense to dominate the football game.

Enter Mike Gillislee, a rookie fifth-round pick who must fill in for the injured Thomas and give the Dolphins’ running game the shot in the arm it so desperately needs. Lamar Miller will also wear more responsibility, but he hasn’t proven to be capable of a workhorse role and has been very inconsistent with his ability to hit the hole during his second season.

Gillislee, meanwhile, possesses a good combination of size and quickness, but hasn’t seen the field yet as a rookie following an unimpressive showing in the exhibition games. He carried the ball 42 times for only 125 yards during the preseason, producing a troubling 3.0 YPC average.

Some of his struggles could be attributed to a second- and third-team offensive line that was even more penetrable against worse competition than the team’s starting unit, but Gillislee still wasn’t able to make many plays when the opportunities to do so were presented. Well, it’s time for that to change.

The Dolphins will be counting on Gillislee to spell Miller down the stretch, and if the rookie can showcase the complete package skill set that enticed Miami to select him in the fifth round of April’s draft, he could become a key piece to any potential playoff run. He’d also be exactly what the franchise needs to give some credibility to GM Jeff Ireland‘s ability to evaluate talent.

Gillislee stepping in and producing would potentially give Tannehill some much-needed assistance offensively. Without offensive balance, the Dolphins’ playoff hopes will likely become bleaker and bleaker every week. With some, the Dolphins might just have what it takes to make a run at the franchise’s first playoff berth since 2008. The rookie needs to step up.

Cody Strahm is a Miami Dolphins contributor at Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter @CodyJStrahm.

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