Miami Dolphins

With running back Lamar Miller, Miami Dolphins find curious case of diminishing returns

Miami Dolphins running back Lamar Miller (26) gets stopped short of a touchdown in the third quarter against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass. on Dec. 14, 2014
Miami Dolphins running back Lamar Miller (26) gets stopped short of a touchdown in the third quarter against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass. on Dec. 14, 2014 MIAMI HERALD STAFF

Thirty-three former University of Miami Hurricanes have played in a game for the Dolphins since the start of the franchise, most of any college.

And in terms of what they accomplished as Dolphins, running back Lamar Miller (and defensive end Olivier Vernon, for that matter) have easily risen into the top third among those 33.

But even in climbing to 13th in the NFL in rushing and 10th in per-carry average among running backs at 4.7, Miller’s season has been somewhat strange in this regard: He isn’t given as many carries as most of the other running backs who rank among the league leaders.

And when he is given a heavier workload, his production often tails off dramatically.

On his first through 10th carries, Miller has averaged a robust 5.4 yards: 134 for 718.

But on carries 11 through 20, his average drops to 2.5: 44 for 111.

That’s not typical for some of the league’s best backs.

Of the players who rank the top five in rushing, four had comparable averages on carries 1 through 10 as carries 11 through 20: Dallas’ DeMarco Murray (4.7, 4.9), Pittsburgh’s Le’Veon Bell (4.7, 4.7), Philadelphia’s LeSean McCoy (4.2, 4.3) and Baltimore’s Justin Forsett (5.6, 5.4). Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch’s average dips from 4.8 to 3.9.

So why the dropoff for Miller? “I don’t have any idea,” he said.

In each of Miami’s past three losses, Miller’s production tailed off significantly after halftime, though in the case of the past two games, lack of opportunity was a major contributing factor:

▪ Against Denver, he ran six times for 52 yards in the first half but just six times for 7 yards in the second half.

▪ Against Baltimore, he had nine carries for 47 yards before intermission, but his three second-half attempts produced just 6 yards.

▪ Against New England this past Sunday, he had 13 carries for 51 yards in the first half but lost 4 yards on three carries in the second half.

In Miller’s defense, he had such few carries in the second half against the Ravens and Patriots that it was difficult to get into a rhythm.

And it would be interesting to see what Miller would do if the Dolphins gave him 20 carries. He has had just two games with more than 15 attempt: 18 vs. Chicago and 16 in Sunday’s Patriots game.

Asked Friday if Miller is capable of more than 12 to 15 carries, coach Joe Philbin said: “I think he’s capable of more. I really do. I would love to get him more … He’s a little more decisive when he has the ball in his hands [this season].

“He’s made better decisions running. It’s not always perfect but … he’s done a better job [doing] less shuffling, less dancing, more running.”

Miller’s diminished production as the game wears on is surprising, partly because he said his weight gain from 212 to 220 last offseason made him more physical and “harder to bring down.”

That extra girth seemingly has helped in short yardage.

Last season, on third-and-1, third-and-2 or fourth-and-1 or 2, Miller ran six times for 8 yards, collecting first downs only twice on those six attempts.

This season, he has 10 carries for 56 yards on third-and-1 or third-and-2 and two carries for 9 yards on fourth-and-1 or fourth-and-2.

The added weight “helps, but it's more determination,” he said. “It just took time for me to adjust [to the NFL].”

Working with buddy and former UM star Frank Gore the past two offseasons has helped.

“He works out twice a day [and] seeing something like that motivates you even more,” Miller said.

With 829 yards for the season, Miller has a chance for his first 1,000-yard season.

But helping him reach that milestone in his third season has “absolutely has not come to my mind,” offensive coordinator Bill Lazor said.

Miller, who attended Killian High in Miami, spends a lot of time sharing group texts with a group of eight friends that includes five other former Hurricanes (Allen Bailey, Travis Benjamin, Sean Spence, Brandon Harris and DeMarcus Van Dyke).

“They tell me I’m lucky, that I’m here in Miami,” he said. “I cherish every moment of it.”

INJURY REPORT

The Dolphins listed right tackle Dallas Thomas and backup running back Daniel Thomas as doubtful for Sunday’s home game against Minnesota. Jason Fox is expected to start at right tackle. Offensive lineman Nate Garner (migraines) was ruled out.

Linebacker Jelani Jenkins (foot), cornerback Jamar Taylor (shoulder) and special teams player Don Jones (shoulder) are questionable.

Vikings standout rookie linebacker Anthony Barr (knee) and starting guard Charlie Johnson (ankle) were ruled out. Tight end Kyle Rudolph (ankle) is doubtful.

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