Last season, the Miami Dolphins went looking for a veteran running back to push incumbent starter Lamar Miller and make sure he had to earn his job. That responsibility was placed on Knowshon Moreno, and when he got hurt, Miller eventually did step up and became a 1,000 yard rusher for the first time in his career, and he ran for 8 touchdowns with a 5.1 YPC average.
So now the question is no longer who will push Lamar Miller for the starting job, but rather, who will be the primary backup for Miller when 2015 rolls around? Right now, the main competitors for that position are second-year player and former undrafted free agent Damien Williams, and former San Francisco 49er LaMichael James.
The current favorite to win the job is Williams, who surprised everyone in training camp last season with his unwillingness to go down and his ability to make catches out of the backfield. But for some reason, the coaching staff refused to give Williams a significant amount of snaps, instead choosing to go with Daniel Thomas, who has since moved on to the Chicago Bears.
Williams ran the ball only 36 times last season for a mere 122 yards, resulting in a paltry 3.4 yards a carry. But even those yards were hard-earned, which is why I give Williams the benefit of the doubt. Meanwhile, his true worth was revealed in the passing game, as he made 21 receptions for 187 yards and a touchdown.
But there's doubt across the Dolphins fanbase that Williams can be what the Dolphins are speculated to need: a third down running back who can power through defensive lines on third and short. But head coach Joe Philbin says they're not necessarily looking for that type of running back to back up Miller.
“We’re kind of more of a multiple team. I know there’s a lot and rightfully so about short-yardage is a critical down in football, four-minute offense is a critical situation in football." Philbin said in his press conference. "Again, it goes back to putting players in a position to be successful. For Lamar (Miller), I don’t think it’s a fair rap, he ran the ball relatively well on third-and-short, we think he can be a third-down back. But we also want to utilize, if we have 46-guys up to the game, we feel like somebody has a special contribution that they can make, and if we can utilize guys then we’re going to do that too.”
Williams came on strong last camp, and so far he's making a good case for himself this camp as well. And despite the apparent unwillingness to name him the primary backup, Philbin acknowledges that Williams has continued to steadily improve.
“I definitely see growth. He’s a good athlete, he really is. He moves and I use that term, I know that sounds elementary, but he moves like a football player." Phibin said. "He’s smooth, he’s athletic, he’s got explosiveness and, again, it just didn’t seem too big for him last year when he got here really. He just kind of got out there and competed and made some plays. I think we all gained a confidence and a comfort level in him as time went on.”
But Williams has stiff competition this camp in LaMichael James, who joined the team last season after his request to be released by the 49ers was granted. He was an excellent player back in Oregon under Chip Kelly - now the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles - and it appears that now he's caught up to the Bill Lazor offense as his skills are once again coming to the surface.
"We’re a multiple formations team as you know and primarily a one back team. He’s a guy that’s got good skill-set, he can catch the football, he’s quick, he understands concepts well in the passing game and I think (offensive coordinator) Bill (Lazor) and his staff have done a good job of moving players around to different spots." Philbin said of James. "Again, one of his attributes is his flexibility and ability to play different spots.”
Both Williams and James have similar skillsets, and they each have the potential to be a Darren Sproles-like weapon in an offense that would greatly benefit from having such a weapon coming out of the backfield. The only question that remains is this: Who will emerge victorious?
This story was written by Luis Sung. Follow him on Twitter: @FLSportDebater
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