Let’s be clear — there’s a tangible drop-off at running back after Knowshon Moreno, in production and temperament.
It’s right there on the stat sheet. Through two games, the Dolphins gained nearly an additional yard every time Moreno carried the ball than when any other back did so.
And it’s not like the blocking was noticeably better when he was on the field. The gains came from Moreno’s ability to break tackles.
Thus far this season, he has picked up 2.92 yards per carry after contact — nearly a full yard more than Lamar Miller, who Pro Football Focus ranks as the least elusive back in football after two weeks.
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And yet, the Dolphins aren’t going to just give up on the running game with Moreno out of commission. Offensive coordinator Bill Lazor’s system can’t work throwing the ball 70 times a game.
“I think we just have to keep running the ball,” Miller said Tuesday after his first 2014 practice as the team’s clear-cut featured back.
When asked if the Dolphins can still be an effective running team without Moreno, Miller responded: “Of course.”
There’s evidence to support it. Miller and Damien Williams will likely be the team’s top two ground options Sunday against the Chiefs. And although not nearly as productive as Moreno, the duo has averaged 4.2 yards per carry this year — which is better than 12 NFL teams.
Still, the Dolphins believed they needed more after Moreno’s elbow injury, which will sideline him for at least a month. On Monday, they re-signed Daniel Thomas, who was cut before the season. And they recently worked out former 49ers back LaMichael James, who has had just 41 carries in his first two-plus NFL seasons.
James’ workout with Miami didn’t result in him signing, but it is a possibility. Sides have had discussions.
“It’s good to have Daniel Thomas back,” coach Joe Philbin said Tuesday. “He’s been a valuable member of the club for the last couple of years, and he looks to be in good shape. Obviously, he knows the system well. He did some good things.
“Lamar had a good practice. Damien Williams ... we thought the runs that he did have, he didn’t look out of place [against the Buffalo Bills]. So we’ll see how it shakes out during the practice week.”
The Dolphins have a good idea of what Miller and Thomas can do. Philbin has had each for his entire tenure as Dolphins coach.
As for Williams, however, there is intrigue. He went undrafted out of Oklahoma after an undisclosed issue his senior year resulted in his dismissal from the team. Williams won’t talk about what happened but did acknowledge that it likely hurt his draft prospects.
But he made the team after a strong camp and is poised to have a greater role than most anyone in the organization anticipated — at least this early.
“I feel like I’m an all-around [back] — carrying the ball, protection-wise, going off of routes,” Williams said. “I feel like I can contribute greatly for this team.”
Offense hasn’t been the problem for Williams, at least yet. The moment Sunday wasn’t too big for him, Philbin said.
Special teams, however, has been a little bumpier. Williams surrendered inside position to Buffalo’s Anthony Dixon in punt protection, allowing Dixon to block Brandon Fields’ kick.
“It’s a bad feeling, because that could change the whole game,” Williams said. “All I can do is forget about that, move on and fix it.”
He doesn’t expect the breakdown to cost him his spot on the punt team, however.
“Coach isn’t going to [say], ‘Oh, you mess up and you’re never going to do it again,’” Williams said. “He put me there for a reason.”
As for Miller, he can expect an increased role, too. He has averaged just 11 carries a game through two weeks, but that was skewed by Moreno’s presence.
“I’ve just got to continue to trust my blockers, just going off them for the most part,” Miller said. “Be more decisive running the ball and just keep running the ball hard.”
Miami Herald sportswriter Barry Jackson contributed to this report.