With barely a month left until the regular-season opener, the Dolphins’ most accomplished running back sometimes still labors to walk, let alone run.
Ice packs clung to both of Knowshon Moreno’s knees, and he had an awkward gait as he made his way to the field to watch the end of Friday’s training camp practice.
In late June, Moreno underwent arthroscopic surgery to clean up his left knee. The original prognosis was he would miss four to five weeks. We’re now well into the sixth week of the rehab, and yet he remains on the Physically Unable to Perform list.
Speaking with the Miami Herald on Friday, Moreno made no promises that his return to action was imminent.
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“I feel good, but at the same time, I just want to be right, be real good, so when I go out there, I can just be full-speed and not have any setbacks,” said Moreno, who ran for 1,038 yards with Denver last year.
When asked if he expects to be back for at least one preseason game, Moreno responded: “I don’t know. I don’t know. I really don’t even know. I just want to take each day one at a time. They have a schedule for me and they’re just going to tell me every day what I have to do, and I just go out there and do it.”
Up until now, that’s mostly included doing rehab exercises with starting center Mike Pouncey, who’s also on the mend, while his teammates practice.
And with each passing day, he appears to lose a bit more ground to Lamar Miller in the race to become Miami’s No. 1 tailback.
Even before Moreno’s surgery, Miller was taking most of the snaps with the starters. Moreno’s time away from practice has done nothing to change that pecking order.
Dolphins coach Joe Philbin insisted Friday that no final decision will be made on regular-season snap allocations until the Friday before the Sept. 7 opener against New England.
But in reality, the depth chart is usually set by the third preseason game. That gives Moreno three weeks to get healthy – and up to speed.
“I don’t have a great familiarity with him as a player, so it’s hard for me to project that,” Philbin said. “I think it’s better that he’s a veteran and has played a lot of football. I think it’s a little bit easier for a guy like that to get right back into the thick of things.”
Moreno is well versed in the physical rehabilitation game. He tore the ACL in his right knee midway through the 2011 season, and appeared in just 15 games total in 2011 and 2012.
However, he bounced back to have the most productive season of his career in 2013, topping 1,000 yards and reaching the Super Bowl with the Broncos.
The Dolphins need that production here. A year ago, they had the league’s third-most-skewed pass-run ratio, calling pass plays roughly 65 percent of the time. Unsurprisingly, Miami ranked 26th in rushing in 2013, averaging just 90 yards per game on the ground.
“I’d definitely like to have more balance,” Philbin said. “I think, in my mind, the running game does a lot of things for you. No. 1, if you’re productive, it helps you with the sticks a little bit, gets you in manageable downs and distance situation.”
He continued: “I think, when you study football, it provides an opportunity for deep shots. Play-action on first and second downs is one of the best ways to throw the ball down the field. I think the better you are in the running game, there’s going to be opportunities to do that in the passing game.”
Now Philbin doesn’t need a 50-50 pass-run split. The league has moved away from that model. But he does want something more in the neighborhood of 60-40.
Plus Philbin prefers a by-committee approach to running the ball. No Dolphins back has had even 230 carries since 2009.
So even if Miller ultimately wins the starting job, there will be plenty of work left for Moreno, who signed a one-year deal with the Dolphins this offseason.
“To tell you truth, I’m not even worried about that,” Moreno said about starting. “That’s not my decision. The only thing I can do is what I do out here on the field and get better each day. Whatever the decision the coaches make, it’s the decision the coaches make. But at the same time, I feel like any one in that backfield, any one of those backs, can be a starter or help this team in some way.”