First Lamar Miller got bigger. And then he got Shady.
With Bill Lazor running the offense, there’s a hope in Dolphins camp that Miller can play the role of LeSean “Shady” McCoy — the Eagles’ running back who was wildly productive during Lazor’s year with coach Chip Kelly in Philadelphia.
Count Miller among the hopeful. And he went straight to the source to find out how to make it happen.
In the days leading up to training camp, Miller sat down with the league’s leading rusher for advice on how to thrive in the system Lazor has brought from Philly to South Florida.
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“He told me that the opportunity is great,” Miller said Sunday. “They always keep the defense on their toes. Once you get the ball, you’ve got to take advantage of the opportunity.”
He will certainly get plenty of those this fall.
When Knowshon Moreno signed with Miami in the offseason, many penciled the former Bronco in as the Dolphins’ starting running back.
It was way premature. Instead, Miller has been clearly ahead of Moreno on the depth chart every step of the way since and might even be pulling away.
Moreno hasn’t practiced yet in camp, still healing from arthroscopic knee surgery.
Miller, meanwhile, is healthy — and stronger than ever. Miller, who ranked 24th among running backs in yards after contact last year (2.06 per carry), put on between six and eight pounds of muscle this offseason.
His goal: Break more tackles, which will improve both his rushing total (709) and average (4.0) from a year ago.
“He looks good, he looks stronger than he’s ever been,” Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said. “I don’t think he’s sacrificed any speed whatsoever.”
Miller proved that on the first day of live hitting at camp. During team drills Sunday, he took the handoff and simply ran away for a blitz before it could get to him, breaking loose for what might have been a touchdown in a game.
That rare ability has many in the Dolphins organization still bullish on the University of Miami ballcarrier after two nondescript pro seasons.
Miller was the change-of-pace back behind Reggie Bush as a rookie, then won the starting job over Daniel Thomas in Year 2. Many within the organization thought that Miller would be the league’s next breakout player, but it didn’t happen.
Why? There are plenty of reasons: a pass-happy approach by then-coordinator Mike Sherman, arguably the worst offensive line in team history, and Miller’s trouble creating for himself when a clear hole wasn’t there.
Sherman is gone, the line is revamped and the brawnier Miller now has stiffer competition, at least on paper. Moreno, whenever he does get healthy, will get a chance to push Miller for depth-chart supremacy.
But if Dolphins brass intended to light a fire under Miller with the signing, it worked. He worked with fellow Hurricane Frank Gore during the offseason, and associates rave about his renewed focus and motivation.
“I think competition is the best thing for a guy,” Miller said. “It brings the best out of someone.”
If Miller wants to be Miami’s version of McCoy, he’d be well-suited to mimic his friend’s consistency.
While Miller had 60 or more rushing yards in eight games last year, he was held under 10 yards in four. McCoy, meanwhile, went over 100 yards seven times but never had less than 38.
Miller spent part of the summer trying to understand why. He watched McCoy’s game film from last year to see what worked in the wide-open, fast-paced system.
What Miller saw made him happy — and excited.
“I think Coach Lazor’s doing a great job at just getting the playmakers the ball, keeping the chains moving and helping this team win games,” he said.