The Miami Dolphins have been holding organized team activities for more than two weeks now, and one of the team’s most surprising developments over those OTAs has been their running back situation.
The Dolphins entered OTAs with three backs having a legit opportunity to be the team’s starting running back. Those three backs would be Lamar Miller, Daniel Thomas and free agent signee Knowshon Moreno.
Although there was always a running back competition open, it was expected that Moreno would be the No. 1 back all along. That has not been the case, however, as Moreno has taken second-team reps behind third-year back Miller. Miller has received first-team reps all throughout OTAs.
It’s been a shocking development because Moreno was expected to be the “savior” of the Dolphins’ anemic rushing attack. Led by Miller and Thomas in 2013, the Dolphins’ running game ranked 26th in the NFL. The running game was so inconsistent that in four separate games in 2013, the team as a whole gained 22 or less rushing yards.
In 2013, Moreno had a breakout season for the Denver Broncos, as he ran for more than 1,000 yards for the first time in his career, and he racked up more than 500 receiving yards. It was the first time in franchise history that any player had rushed more than 1,000 yards and caught for more than 500 receiving yards in a single season.
Moreno’s great 2013 season netted him a one-year deal worth $3 million with the Dolphins in the offseason. However, Moreno has not catapulted that success into OTAs.
“He’s had a very good camp,” Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin said of Miller, via ESPN. “This is the time as a third-year player that you’re ready to make a big contribution.”
It has been speculated that Miller is a better fit in new offensive coordinator Bill Lazor‘s system than Moreno. This would explain why Miller has been receiving the first-team reps, while Moreno has been relegated to backup reps. What hasn’t helped Moreno’s cause is the fact that he showed up to camp in less-than-great shape.
There’s three months more of camp before the regular season even begins, and a lot can change from this point forward. However, there’s little doubt that the running back battle between Miller and Moreno for the starting job will be the team’s biggest positional battle as it enters the 2014 season.
This begs the question, who should be the team’s starting running back?
The answer is simple really — if Miller continues his impressive play throughout camp, the third-year back should be the team’s starting running back by the season opener against the New England Patriots in September.
Although it will be a disappointment that Moreno will be a specialty back in his first season with Miami, the veteran running back is a superb receiver and pass protector. Moreno can be used in obvious passing situations and can be used as the third down back. With most NFL teams employing a running back-by-committee system, the Dolphins should haven’t any problem using Miller as the two-down back, with Moreno as the third down back.
Even if Moreno is not the starting-caliber back Miami envisioned when they signed him during the offseason, there will still be a large role for the five-year veteran in Miami’s offense. And knowing Miller’s inconsistent history as a starting back for the Dolphins, Moreno can be utilized as a spark plug in the running game if needed.
All in all, the Dolphins have a better outlook when it pertains to their running game than they did entering last season.