Typically, when a team acquires a running back who accumulated over 1,500 total yards just one season prior, the void at the position dissipates. That’s not necessarily the case in South Florida, three days after the Miami Dolphins officially inked Knowshon Moreno.
Moreno is exactly what the Dolphins’ backfield was missing in many regards. A reliable blocker, a sure-handed receiver and, perhaps most importantly, a passionate leader, Moreno will provide the Dolphins’ running game with stability if nothing else.
Last year’s starter, Lamar Miller, remains an uncertainty who could reasonably surface as a 1,000-yard rusher or continue to underwhelm even if paired with a refurbished offensive line during his third season, but his sidekick, Daniel Thomas, has overstayed his welcome.
Moreno is unquestionably an upgrade from Thomas, who couldn’t run, catch or block consistently in three years with the team. But the majority of potential starting backs the Dolphins could realistically obtain would likely be obvious upgrades over Thomas as well. Simply stating that Moreno is better doesn’t mean Miami’s previously anemic running game is now capable of becoming prolific. The Dolphins need much more than merely a superior back to Thomas in order to improve what was the NFL‘s 26th-ranked ground attack.
In many ways, the success of Miami’s stable of backs will be reliant on the offensive line. Adding four adept fits for the zone-blocking scheme will breed significant enhancement in its own right.
The Dolphins believe said project is halfway complete with the signings of Branden Albert and Shelley Smith. Two spots remain unsettled, but GM Dennis Hickey will pick from a talented heap of tackle prospects on the first or second day of the draft, and in-house candidates like Dallas Thomas and Sam Brenner could prove capable of winning the right guard spot.
Regardless of how the new-look line shapes up, the Dolphins’ backs should have more holes to work with in 2014 considering there is really nowhere to go but up for the club’s offensive line from a pass protection and run blocking standpoint.
More balanced play-calling should also induce improvement. Former Philadelphia Eagles quarterbacks coach Bill Lazor has replaced Mike Sherman as offensive coordinator. Sherman’s offense produced the fourth fewest rushing attempts in the league while Lazor coached for an Eagles’ attack that ran the ball more often than all but three teams in 2013.
Look for Miami’s offense to take on a new-found commitment to running the football this season. Head coach Joe Philbin clearly embodies a pass-first mentality, but unpredictability will make rushing the quarterback and covering Miami’s pass catchers more of a chore for opponents.
Despite these factors, the team’s group of running backs shouldn’t be deemed complete. Moreno, while an established pro and all-purpose back, has yet to erase all doubts about his running prowess.
With the Denver Broncos, Moreno’s 2013 production was undoubtedly propelled by defenses scheming to keep Peyton Manning and the Broncos’ unprecedented passing attack in check. Moreno often ran against the nickel defense, giving him more room to operate than what most runners are accustomed to.
Will Moreno have similar success when facing base defenses more frequently? That remains to be seen. And even if he does, it shouldn’t be forgotten that he’s only under contract for one year, which leaves a murky future at the position.
If Moreno is still a question mark after 1,038 rushing yards last season, Lamar Miller is certainly an ambiguous player after only 709. Miller possesses the tools to become a breakout star in 2014, but has yet to run with the physicality needed to do so. If something doesn’t click during his third year, the Dolphins will be in dire need of a starting or change-of-pace back, depending on Moreno’s success or lack thereof. And they should stay ahead of the curve by addressing the position during May’s draft.
This year’s draft class isn’t considered stacked at running back by any means, but neither was last year’s. Still, the 2013 draft turned up robust rookie running backs like Eddie Lacy and Giovani Bernard despite being the first draft in history to not have a running back’s name called during the first round.
There’s no reason why the Dolphins shouldn’t look to find a productive runner who bolsters the offense in 2014 and solidifies the future of the offense’s running game. Neither Moreno nor Miller have proven they can accomplish the latter. A rookie could be the final piece to the puzzle.
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