Make no mistake — the Dolphins run blocking was brutal against the Buccaneers.
But you don’t rush for negative yardage in the first half because of line play alone.
Dolphins officials who watched the game film also saw a group of running backs unable to create for themselves — a familiar criticism for a unit that has underwhelmed since Reggie Bush left via free agency.
Lamar Miller is dynamic in the open field but has averaged just 1.6 yards per carry after contact this preseason.
Can Knowshon Moreno be the salve? He sure hopes so — beginning Saturday against the Cowboys. Moreno expects to play in the all-important third preseason game, and should he show enough, he could reshuffle a depth chart that has appeared set since the spring.
Simply by breaking a few tackles in his Dolphins debut, Moreno might earn an expanded role when the games start counting in a couple weeks.
“I think that’s what I bring to the game, for sure,” Moreno said. “I’m a physical runner.”
Moreno added: “I’m going to bring that physical aspect of the game, that passion, and I’m going to go out and make plays.”
Granted, that had been Moreno’s plan since signing a one-year deal with the Dolphins in the springtime. But a knee injury flared up during OTAs and he needed it scoped. Moreno began training camp on the physically unable to perform list and has been practicing for only a little over a week.
In that short time, however, he has been impressive. And the hope is that form carries into Saturday night’s dress rehearsal.
Moreno couldn’t have picked a better time to return. Miller had Tampa Bay’s Gerald McCoy constantly blowing up running plays last week. But the Cowboys, to put it kindly, don’t have a Gerald McCoy on their roster.
Entering Friday night’s action, Dallas had the league’s 26th-ranked run defense, surrendering 151.5 yards per game. Plus right guard Dallas Thomas, who was routinely exposed by McCoy, probably won’t start; he has been benched in favor of Shelley Smith.
“As I’ve said, he’s been a productive runner,” coach Joe Philbin said of Moreno. “He broke some tackles where he played last year. We’re just looking for, as I said, more consistency in the running game overall.”
It was a point of emphasis in meetings throughout the week. Philbin showed his team pictures from the first two games that illustrated how plays were there to be made, if only the running backs could make someone miss.
Granted, the production will most certainly improve when the Dolphins have more than one of their top four running backs on the field. Moreno, Daniel Thomas and Mike Gillislee all sat out the Buccaneers game because of injury.
Both Moreno and Thomas appeared sure bets to play against the Cowboys early in the week, but Thomas is still dealing with a hamstring injury. The issue had him concerned Thursday about his availability.
It’s brutal timing for a player who looks to be on the bubble to make this team. Thomas, the former second-round pick, has the most competition he has ever faced, and a coaching staff that expects more than he has shown in his first three seasons.
At 235, Thomas is easily the biggest back on the roster and would intuitively be the team’s most physical short-yardage option. But his post-contact production last year was worse than that of Moreno and Miller — who are both considerable lighter than Thomas.
The Dolphins have not yet told Thomas how they plan to use him this fall — which is telling. One possibility is they don’t plan to use him at all.
“You want to go out there and compete and show that you can still play and be a part of the team,” Thomas said. “It’s definitely tough.”
The thought of being cut does enter his mind, but Thomas added: “I don’t really worry about it. I’ll just let whatever happens, happens and just go with it. It’s all I can do.”
That’s Moreno’s plan, too. But simply seeing the field would be an improvement over the past month.
“It’s about that time,” he said. “Football season’s right here. Definitely standing on the sidelines is not that much fun. It is good cheering on your teammates and things like that, but I’m ready to get out there, for sure.”
Tight end Egnew is cut
There will be no third chance for Michael Egnew.
The Dolphins on Friday cut Egnew, the tight end taken instead of local phenom T.Y. Hilton in the third round of the 2012 draft.
Egnew’s career stats with the Dolphins: seven catches for 69 yards and no touchdowns.
He has been a lightning rod among Dolphins fans since his rookie season, when “Hard Knocks’’ cameras caught then-offensive coordinator Mike Sherman telling Egnew he would cut him on the spot if he had the power.
Egnew showed some improvement in Year 2, although he was never the dynamic seam threat Jeff Ireland envisioned when he took the tight end with the 78th pick of the 2012 draft. Only Ryan Tannehill, Olivier Vernon, Lamar Miller and Rishard Matthews remain from that draft class.
Egnew’s fate may have been sealed this week when the Dolphins didn't include him in their rarely used I-formation set. Dion Sims lined up as the fullback instead of Egnew.
The Dolphins on Friday also waived defensive tackle Micajah Reynolds and waived/injured defensive back Jalil Brown. They must trim the roster to 75 players by next week.