Most Miami Dolphins fans knew it was coming. After all, the writing on the wall wasn't that hard to read.
As free agency crept closer and closer, the Dolphins and Reggie Bush seemed to drift further apart. GM Jeff Ireland was determined not to overpay for Bush, while the former Trojan believed he was still due a decent payday.
Regardless of who was right (although, for the record, I believe Bush was worth his asking price), Bush is no longer a Dolphin. He signed a four-year, $16 million contract with the Detroit Lions on Wednesday (per NFL.com)
Miami has been the opposite of discrete in free agency so far, dropping huge bucks to improve its offense. Mike Wallace received a gigantic deal, while Brian Hartline agreed to a reasonable contract to return to Miami.
With one glaring exception.
What are the Dolphins going to do at running back?
It's been largely assumed that Lamar Miller would take over as the feature back, with Daniel Thomas handling spell duties. But will that be enough? Are the Dolphins ready to rely on a couple of guys with very little playing time to carry a vital part of their offense?
Miller had a breakout year as a redshirt sophomore at the University of Miami. He was drafted by the Dolphins last year in the fourth round after Ireland traded up to snag the former Hurricane.
Ireland coveted Miller for a reason. The young back's agility and speed are awe-inspiring. He put both on display sparingly this season, picking up 250 yards and a touchdown on 51 carries. More impressive is his 4.9 yard average. A strong number, to be sure, but can Miller keep up that average when he's seeing twice as many carries per game?
Daniel Thomas, on the other hand, is not a reliable backup. After two years and 256 carries, Thomas only averaged a meager 3.5 yards per touch. He did score four touchdowns last year, but those were due to his bulkier frame being preferable to Bush's at the goal line.
Thomas has also been plagued by injuries, playing only 13 games in 2011 and 12 in 2012. He's had issues with protecting the football, tallying five fumbles during his limited time in the backfield.
At the very least, Miami should bring in a runner who can provide a bit more stability as Miller's backup. But the Dolphins also shouldn't overlook the possibility of competition in the backfield. At worse, the Dolphins gain a more motivated Lamar Miller. At best, they gain a fierce, two-pronged running attack.
Looking at the veterans available in free agency, nothing really stands out. Rashard Mendenhall, a guy Miami had shown interest in, signed with Arizona Tuesday (via ESPN). Short of Ahmad Bradshaw (who will likely be too pricey for Miami's taste), no one else appears that attractive.
With a wealth of draft picks, the Dolphins could possibly draft another running back to either compete with or split time with Miller.
Arkansas' Dennis Johnson could fit in Miami. He doesn't possess the ability to be an every-down back, but he could be a nice third-down option thanks to his receiving skills. He's also a reliable blocker, an area in which Miller struggled.
If Miami wants to add a solid if not exceptional player, it could look at Stanford's Stepfan Taylor. His meaty frame allows him to run with power, yet he lacks breakaway speed. However, Miller has plenty of speed to burn, so Taylor could provide a nice change of pace.
One particular player I've lobbied for Miami to consider is Florida's Mike Gillislee. The Gator shined when he was finally given a starting job as a senior in 2012, running for 1,152 yards and 10 touchdowns. Gillislee is an all-around back who has enough speed to create separation, but can still run with power that betrays his size. Where Miller would be Miami's scalpel, Gillislee could be their sledgehammer.
Miami could likely snag one of these runners in the third round. Assuming the Dolphins address offensive tackle and corner in free agency, the need to hit those positions in the draft will lessen a bit. That would open the opportunity to pick up another young halfback.
Of course, Ireland could be comfortable enough with Miller and Thomas that he has no intentions of scoping the running back market.
If that's the case, and if Ireland is wrong about what he currently has, it would be a shame to see Miami's revamped offense suffer due to a deficiency in the backfield.
Especially after they let one of their biggest playmakers at that position walk away.
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