Change Of Direction Led Slaton Back To Dolphins

Posted Jul 19, 2012

All it took to convince Steve Slaton the right move for his career was to stay with the Dolphins was one conversation with new offensive coordinator Mike Sherman.

“I talked to Mike Sherman before everything started and he said we were switching to the zone (offense),” Slaton explained. “That’s a scheme that I’ve been a part of since college. It’s the best fit for me, so I wanted to be a part of this again.”

Slaton re-signed with the Dolphins as a free agent this spring despite getting only 17 carries in three games after being claimed off waivers from Houston in late September.

Because of his lack of opportunities, it was expected that Slaton might look elsewhere in free agency instead of rejoining a crowded Dolphins backfield, one that added even more depth in the draft with the selection of Lamar Miller in the fourth round.

For Slaton, though, it was all about being comfortable with the scheme.

“Pretty much same scheme, same zone, inside, outside, everything is just what I’ve been running since I’ve been in college,” Slaton said. “I’ll just say after you learn something for so long — I’ve been fortunate that coaches that coached me were under guys that were in the zone — it was very easy just to pick up because it was the same reads and everything. It fit my skill set the most.”

Sherman was the offensive coordinator with the Texans before he became the head coach at Texas A&M, but he never coached Slaton because his last year there was 2007.

But the Texans kept the same offense after Sherman’s departure.

By contrast, Slaton had to learn a new scheme when he joined the Dolphins last season — and he had to learn it on the fly. That, no doubt, contributed to his lack of playing time on offense.

“There was some transition,” Slaton said, “just because I’d been with Houston for three years and coming here third game of the season and not getting that time to really be in camp and minicamp and offseason training to get what everybody else knew, as much as they knew.

“I think I took advantage of the opportunities I did have. I didn’t have many, but I still played hard when I got the opportunities and making plays out there so it counts. I practiced hard in practice.”

It’s easy to dismiss Slaton when you start thinking about the Dolphins offense for 2012.

After all, Reggie Bush is coming off a 1,000-yard season in his first go as a feature back, Daniel Thomas showed some promise as a rookie second-round pick, Miller flashed big-time skills at the University of Miami, and to boot Jerome Messam came over from the CFL after rushing for more than 1,000 yards in 2011.

But let’s not forget that Slaton has been there, done that.

And he wants to do it again.

Even though it might not seem like it, it wasn’t all that long ago that Slaton was one of the most productive running backs in the NFL. It was 2008, and while the Dolphins were working toward an AFC East Division title, Slaton was tearing up the league with the Texans.

He would finish the season with almost 1,300 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns, not to mention 50 receptions out of the backfield. And he did all of that as a rookie third-round pick out of West Virginia University.

Slaton, however, fell victim to the proverbial sophomore jinx — if there is such a thing — when injuries and fumbling issues led to him rushing for only 437 yards in 2009.

He didn’t even top 100 yards for the entire season in either 2010 or 2011.

“It’s tough at first,” Slaton says of his declining production. “That’s what being a professional is. You learn to deal with those things, that you won’t be the first and you won’t be the last. Having success is a bigger motivator because you’ve done it before and you know the No. 1 person that needs to believe in yourself is yourself.”

Make no mistake, Slaton believes in himself. He’s just hoping to get more opportunities next season to show he once again be that running back who was so successful four years ago.

“It’s very motivating, but all coaches will tell you it’s all about opportunity,” said Slaton, who also returned three kickoffs for the Dolphins last season. “I had an opportunity to be a starter my rookie year, lost the job through opportunity and looking to regain the job through opportunity. That’s what this league is made of. It’s just opportunity.”

Slaton said that was something else Mike Sherman told him when the two talked in the offseason.

In short, the message was this: Everybody is coming in with a clean slate and will be given an opportunity.

Said Slaton: “When I heard that from him, I knew it was the right decision to come here.”
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