The Miami Dolphins’ fans and organization have had nothing short of a struggle when it comes to consistency of production from their position players. The team itself hasn’t had much to celebrate at all since the Don Shula days. The team has only made the playoffs three times since 2001 and blew all three of those opportunities in the wild card round, all by at least 17 points or more. Arguably, the biggest question the team faces besides finding a starting quarterback, is solidifying its running back.
Blast from the past
The team is likely hoping to solidify a number of positions during this year’s training camp, but wandering eyes should not overlook any of the rushers. When one thinks of big name rushers for the Dolphins in the last 20 years, Ricky Williams or Ronnie Brown likely stand out. Aside from those two, no one really impresses. Williams and Brown already moved onto different teams and careers and are no longer in the NFL. A reliable guy to start producing out of the backfield again couldn’t hurt Miami.
The Dolphins’ most recent flash of success was with running back Jay Ajayi in 2016. Ajayi ran for more than 1,200 yards and had eight touchdowns in just eight games. In three of those eight games he rushed for more than 200 yards. He appeared to be the next centerpiece of their franchise until, for reasons still unclear to some, Ajayi was exchanged in a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles. Ajayi moved from a sole rushing role to a committee where his talents have been engulfed by his teammates in the backfield.
As of last season, the starting position belonged to Kenyan Drake. Drake is entering his fourth season, and his starting role is currently in question as head coach Brian Flores has gone public with that as training camp is under way. Drake hasn’t done the best at capitalizing on his opportunities in the backfield. He has put up less than 1,400 rushing yards in his career and has scored just nine rushing touchdowns across three seasons. These stats are what some NFL rushers have in just a single season.
Drake’s true time to shine came last season as he was the sole starter entering the season for the first time. That platform quickly evaporated as he struggled producing and saw backup Frank Gore gain almost 200 more yards than him on the season.
Ballage outshining Drake early
There are rumors opening up that Drake could potentially lose his starting position in Miami to his back up from last year, Kalen Ballage. Though it’s just the beginning of training camp, it is important to note that Drake is already losing some of his carries to some of the other backs on the team. Although it’s normal to see all rostered backs taking snaps, it’s not normal for a head coach to seriously be evaluating those carries and looking for a new starter.
“That’s not something I’m really necessarily focused on. I’m focused on getting better every day. That’s football. I’m happy to be here, happy to go out there and improve every day and let the chips fall where they may,” Drake said last week at training camp.
It’s likely that even if he is still the starter by week one of the regular season that he will be sharing some of those carries with Ballage, and possibly some of the other backs on his team. Deja vu from last season.
“I’m not looking too far ahead. How I control the future is how I control the present. Every day I’m here, I’m in my playbook. I try to lead by example by coming here and doing the things I need to do from a routine standpoint,” Drake said. “It’s still early out here. It is what it is. I’m excited for the opportunity to come out here and help this team win a lot more games.”
A lot up in the air
I feel it’s not expected for Drake to be the star of the Dolphins’ run game this year, because I don’t think the Dolphins have had that expectation for anyone in the last decade. I do however think he will still be expected to make an impact on the team and held accountable as a leader. I still think he needs to improve his game play and show that his mindset of getting work done off the field correlates to results on the field. I can’t lie and say Ballage doesn’t pose a threat to Drake. I think his pass catching ability outshines Drake’s and he brings fresher elements to the team. It’s almost as if everything Drake is saying he is improving, mirrors something Ballage is showing sparks of in camp.
Is it too late for Drake to pick up his pace and keep his role? Will Ballage make a surprise entrance in just a few weeks and take the team by storm? Either way– the Dolphins should hope so.
Kayla Morton contributed to this article.