The Dolphins didn’t sign Arian Foster to be a backup.
They signed him to compete for — and have high hopes he can win — the starting job at running back.
And this wouldn’t be an honorary starting job, with the four-time Pro Bowler just part of a by-committee attack.
That’s not how the Dolphins envision their offense operating.
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“I hope not,” Dolphins offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen said when asked if the Dolphins might have three running backs with at least 75 carries this year. “We don't want that.”
Christensen added: “We really need someone to emerge as the guy. ... We don't want to substitute. ... We really need one guy to be a three-down back, stay in there for that drive.”
And there is growing optimism that Foster can be that guy — even though he turns 30 this month and missed the second half of 2015 with a torn right Achilles tendon.
If he can, Foster’s contract — a one-year, $1.5 million deal that can grow if he hits certain incentives — might be the biggest steal in football.
The Dolphins will monitor Foster’s snap count throughout the year, as they have done in the first week of practice. Foster began training camp on the physically unable to perform list, and the Dolphins have been smart about his exposure since activating him on Sunday.
But of what little they have seen of Foster, the Dolphins have liked.
Dolphins coach Adam Gase said Foster “absolutely” has looked how they hoped he would when the signed him late last month.
“Any time we run a lot of plays that he’s run in the past, his ability to feel holes in the run game and when he gets the ball in the passing game, how smooth he is, how effortlessly he catches the ball, it's an impressive thing for me to see,” Gase said. “I've been around one other guy in Matt Forte, as far as a guy who can do that much.”
Foster has worked more and more with the first team in recent days, a function of his fitness and the absence of Jay Ajayi, the second-year back who has missed the past three practices with a minor knee injury. Ajayi is Foster’s primary competition for carries; both should get plenty this year.
“He's not falling behind mentally, for sure,” Gase said of Ajayi. “For me, the sooner we can get him back the better. He's working hard to get back. It's so day-to-day.”
Other newsworthy nuggets from Christensen’s first press availability camp:
▪ Quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s communication at the line of scrimmage (including his choice of audibles) has “been OK. It’s got to get better,” Christensen said. That will come with time, however.
“I think the 12th year with Peyton [Manning] there was a lot more trust than the first year with Peyton,” said Christensen, who coached Manning in Indianapolis. “You don't want that much on your plate early. ... He started as a rookie quarterback and he made his way up and ended up a decorated doctorate in quarterbacking. But there was a lot of years of elementary school, all the way through, before he got that doctorate level title.”
Tannehill is “really, really sharp,” Christensen added. “He works unbelievably hard. I think he works as hard as anybody I've been around. I think I've been around elite workers at the quarterback position. Those guys are elite. Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck are elite workers, and this guy works his tail off.”
▪ The Dolphins “miss DeVante” Parker, the second-year receiver who has now missed back-to-back practices with a hamstring injury. Christensen added: “DeVante’s got to be our bell cow in the red zone.”