Dolphins running pack Kalen Ballage exercises patience
Nowhere is the Dolphins’ youth movement more evident that at running back, the only position on the roster without a player with more than three seasons of NFL experience.
Frank Gore is now in Buffalo, Brandon Bolden back in New England.
And barring a surprising veteran addition, all of the carries this season should go to young players — Kenyan Drake, Kallen Ballage and whoever is added in the draft process.
Kenneth Farrow, an Alliance of American Football alum with 13 games of NFL experience (for the Chargers in 2016), is the only other running back on the roster.
This, Ballage said Thursday, “is definitely an opportunity. Having an opportunity to have Frank here obviously was great for me. Now hopefully, I’ll get more playing time and show what I can do.”
And Ballage, Miami’s fourth-round pick last year, isn’t simply going to concede the starting job to Drake.
He said he “absolutely” is eyeing the starting job and “it doesn’t really matter who had the most playing time in the past. I’m ready to do my thing.”
Ballage comes off a strong close to last season, including a 75-yard touchdown run in Week 15 against Minnesota, which helped him close with a 5.3 yard rushing average on 36 rookie carries.
“I’m tired of that run, honestly,” he said. “I just want to move forward.”
Running backs coach Eric Studesville, who was retained off last seaon’s staff, declined to answer directly this offseason when asked if Drake warrants more than the 7.5 carries per game he averaged last season. But that figure should increase, barring the Dolphins acquiring one of the top backs in the draft.
Drake - who averaged 4.5 yards on 120 carries last season and caught 53 passes for 477 yards - said how offensive coordinator Chad O’Shea “plans to use me is yet to be seen, because I have to put myself in the best position for him to use me as much as possible. New coaching staff coming in, so it’s almost like a clean slate. I’m definitely comfortable in the position I’m in.”
Drake has studied how the Patriots used running back James White, who — like Drake — is an excellent receiver. “Obviously, they get the ball to the running back in check-down situations,” Drake said.
Drake professionally handled last season’s reduced workload, never complaining publicly and living by the tenet that “the only thing I can control is my attitude, my effort.”
Drake said being the most experienced player in the running back room now is “definitely interesting. I feel like having Frank Gore come in last year and him being 35 — 36 this year — it gave me the opportunity to look at somebody that epitomizes the longevity.”
Even in Buffalo, Gore is still providing mentoring for the Dolphins’ young backs. Ballage said: “I’ve been talking to Frank almost every day. He’s like a big brother to me, taking me under his wing since the moment I got here.”
THIS AND THAT
The Dolphins picked up left tackle Laremy Tunsil’s fifth-year option, giving Miami control of him through 2020. Tunsil will make $10 million in 2020; that salary is guaranteed only in the event of a serious injury. But he’s in the team’s longterm plans. Tunsil will make $2.1 million this season in the final year of his rookie deal.
▪ Flores likes what the Dolphins have in young linebackers Raekwon McMillan and Jerome Baker, saying they’re both smart, fast and good tacklers.
Baker “can cover, which obviously in this league with it going in the passing direction, you want that out of a linebacker,” Flores said. “Both [are] good young players. We’re happy to have them both.”
▪ Safety T.J. McDonald declined to say whether he’s working at all at linebacker — something Flores said, in March, that he could do — but the fact he has lost 15 pounds (to 215) suggest he will remain at safety.
He lost the weight to “make sure I run. I can put it back on when I need to. Just want to be in top-notch shape to compete.”
▪ McDonald wants to make this clear: Even though Flores is taking with him some things he used in New England as the Patriots’ de facto defensive coordinator, this Dolphins defense “is not the Patriots defense,” McDonald said. “This is the Miami defense. I don’t want to hear the Patriots defense. I don’t care where he came from. This is what we’re doing here. That’s what he’s established.”
▪ New Dolphins quarterback Jake Rudock, who threw five regular-season passes in two seasons with the Lions, said Thursday: “I think I can play at this level” but acknowledges he was a sixth-round pick and must improve. As an alum of Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas, Rudock said he has gotten to know Dolphins special advisor Dan Marino through the years “a little bit and... it’s very cool to have a legend like that in the” quarterback meeting room. For now, Rudock is living in his old bedroom at his parents’ home in Weston.