Yes, it’s the preseason.
And, yes, it’s a small sample size.
But midway through the exhibition season, the Dolphins’ best running back has two regular-season carries in the past three years and is on his third NFL roster in 11 months.
His name is Isaiah Pead, and he’s doing whatever he can to force Adam Gase into a very tough roster decision.
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For the second week in a row, Pead was strong when the lights came on. He led all Dolphins in yards from scrimmage (78) and had two of the team’s three most explosive plays in Friday night’s 41-14 preseason loss to the Cowboys.
And most intriguingly, he was given coveted first-team snaps, the clearest sign yet that Pead might be on the right side of the roster bubble.
“Every time he gets in the game, he seems to pop one,” Gase said. “I’ve been very impressed with him. … When he gets in the game, I’m thinking, ‘Let’s call plays for him and try to give him a chance to show his skill set.’ ”
Gase added: “It just seems like, when he gets in there, whether run game or pass game, he seems to make something happen.”
Pead leads all Dolphins running backs this preseason in rushing yards (98) and average (7.0 yards per carry). His 45-yard rumble against the Cowboys was the NFL’s third-longest run of the preseason entering Saturday night’s action.
“I should have taken it farther,” Pead joked in the postgame locker room. “Should have scored. … It was an outside run. The line blocked it up perfectly and left me some running lanes. After that, it was up to me to pick a hole and hit it — and then don’t stop.”
Earlier in the game, Pead slipped open down the right sideline on a busted pass play. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill found him, and the two connected on a 30-yard completion.
In all, Pead showed the kind of strength and speed that convinced the Rams to take him with the 50th overall pick four years ago.
Pead was a non-factor his first two seasons in St. Louis, making it easy for the Rams to cut him after he sustained an ACL injury in 2014. His short stint in Pittsburgh was equally uninspiring.
The Dolphins took a zero-risk flier on Pead in free agency. When they signed Pead in late March, Jay Ajayi and Damien Williams were the only running backs of consequence on their roster.
But they’ve since drafted Kenyan Drake and added veteran Arian Foster, making Pead’s chances even longer.
Then the preseason arrived. Drake hasn’t practiced in weeks after sustaining a hamstring injury. His loss has been Pead’s gain, leaving the Dolphins with five capable backs vying for what appears to be four roster spots.
Drake’s health and league rules could delay that decision. The NFL allows each team to put one player each year on short-term injured reserve, which would keep him out half of the season. If Gase ultimately decides he needs both Pead and Williams, he might stash Drake for eight weeks as insurance.
That’s beyond Pead’s control. What isn’t: how he performs in the next two weeks.
“I just came out to play football,” Pead said. “It’s another preseason game. I’ve been having a good camp, and I just wanted to put something on film.”
▪ Blame is easily shared when it comes to the Dolphins’ toothless run defense, but Jordan Phillips’ performance this preseason has been particularly alarming.
Phillips has been invisible in his two starts at defensive tackle, with Earl Mitchell out with a calf injury. Phillips has no tackles or sacks and just one quarterback hit in 55 snaps this preseason.
Phillips entered camp with hopes of winning a starting job. His more pressing concern now is veteran Chris Jones passing him on the depth chart. Jones had two tackles — including one for a loss — against the Cowboys.
▪ Laremy Tunsil wouldn’t assess how he played immediately after Friday’s game, wanting to watch the film first. He’ll have plenty to review.
The first-round pick was on the field for a team-high 39 snaps against the Cowboys, more than double the amount of work given to Dallas Thomas, his nominal competition for the starting left guard job.
The real battle on the line is at right guard, where Jermon Bushrod and Billy Turner have both had their moments.
Meanwhile, the end might be near for guard Jamil Douglas in Miami. The former fourth-round pick saw the field for just eight plays on Friday.