The preseason often provides plenty of teachable moments for young players.
Dolphins’ rookie running back Kalen Ballage’s came with 13:38 left in the second quarter of Thursday night’s exhibition tilt against Tampa Bay.
An overzealous Ballage tried to hurdle an oncoming defender and wasn’t too successful.
Ballage landed on the turf without the football, leading to a turnover and points for the opposition.
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“That’s just a young kid trying to make a big play and making a mistake, and he’ll learn from that and he’ll get better from it,” Dolphins coach Adam Gase said.
The Dolphins might have been encouraged by what Ballage did next than by any of the explosive runs he made before or after that mistake.
On Miami’s next series, Ballage made sure to secure the ball with both hands while breaking a tackle and still gaining valuable yardage on the play.
Lesson learned on Thursday night.
If Ballage can continue to take heed from such moments, he might give the Dolphins a reliable and effective option in a crowded backfield that could be one of the deeper units in football this season if all of its pieces stay healthy.
“Even when I think I’m down, I just have to take care of the ball,” Ballage said. “That’s on me. I have to keep focusing on keeping the ball no matter how I may go down. I have to make sure I have the ball and give it to the ref each time.”
Ballage, a rookie from Arizona State the Dolphins drafted 131st overall, finished with 37 yards on 10 carries — including an impressive 14-yard run on his second rush in the first quarter.
Ballage, the biggest running back on the Dolphins’ roster at 6-2 and 237 pounds, also showed his potential value on check-downs as he has several times during training camp, catching three passes out of the backfield for 23 yards on five targets.
Ballage accumulated 2,668 yards and 29 touchdowns combined rushing and receiving in college.
“I was just getting back in the groove,” Ballage said. “It’s been a minute since we were in game-like situations so it was fun to be out there competing against other teams. You miss that after a while coming from college. I’m just trying to make the most out of each and every opportunity.”
Ballage’s performance was an improvement from the team’s scrimmage less than a week earlier when he was tackled for loss early on and stopped cold for little or no gain multiple times by Dolphins’ first-team linebackers.
Ballage is cherishing the opportunity to share a backfield with a future Hall of Famer like Frank Gore and a rising talent like Kenyan Drake.
Senorise Perry (35 yards and a touchdown on four carries on Thursday) is also competing for a spot against Brandon Radcliff, Buddy Howell and recently-signed Jeremy Langford.
“It’s a brotherhood in the backfield,” Ballage said. “We want to help each other succeed. We go out there and compete at a maximum level and give maximum effort. It doesn’t feel like a competition even though we know that it’s on the line. We want to work hard together to be the best backfield we can be.”
The Dolphins didn’t list a starter on their depth chart going into Thursday’s game. Drake is coming off a great finish to the 2017 season (644 yards and three touchdowns on 133 carries). Gore didn’t play Thursday, but at 35 years old, still looks as agile as he did in his younger years as he enters season No. 14 hoping to add to his 14,026 career yards.
So how many carries will be left for Ballage?
“The work never stops and I don’t act like I already have a spot,” Ballage said after last Saturday’s scrimmage. “I’m going in there, working my [butt] off and try to prove myself and convince those guys to have faith in me.”
According to a source, Dolphins linebacker Mike Hull suffered an MCL sprain during Thursday’s game and is expected to miss several weeks. Hull, a valued special teams player, was carted off the field early in the second quarter and did not return. The Dolphins backup linebackers remain Chase Allen, Jerome Baker and Terence Garvin.
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