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Most of the attention so far in training camp has been paid to the new additions to the passing game, but running backs
Thomas, in just his third season, is the veteran of what is the youngest position group on the Miami Dolphins roster and is adjusting to a leadership role while at the same time doing what he can to make it a tight competition between him and Miller. The work he put in during the offseason out in Arizona to get faster and stronger has been paying off so far, as well as the knowledge he gained playing behind Reggie Bush the previous two seasons.
“Reggie put a platform down for us. He was a great leader for us, so we try to do the same with the other guys,” said Thomas, who has rushed for 906 yards and four touchdowns in two seasons with a 3.5 yards average per carry. “We’re cool off the field, then we get out here and work together, but we’re competing as well. Lamar is a great back. I can’t do anything about that. I just have to come out every day and work. I’m not worried about it. I just want to keep getting better, and come game time I want to be ready to go.”
Miller’s locker was next to Bush’s last year and he took it upon himself to get more serious about his preparation during the offseason by working out with former Miami Hurricanes and current San Francisco 49ers running back Frank Gore. His speed was never in question but he wanted to improve his blocking and his receiving in order to make himself more of a well-rounded back.
Even though he only carried the ball 51 times last season, Miller managed to rush for 250 yards and a touchdown and he led the team in yards-per-carry average at 4.9 while also catching a total of six passes for 45 yards. He is very comfortable in the offense being run by offensive coordinator Mike Sherman and the all of the schemes.
“I ran a zone blocking scheme in college so I’m just trying to learn how to be more patient and just hit the holes,” Miller said. “You just have to let the offensive linemen get into their blocking scheme and just stay patient and go off of them. Now Daniel and I are just helping the younger guys get into the playbook and giving them some of the same tips that Reggie gave us, while getting better as a player myself.”
Running backs coach Jeff Nixon has worked with a lot of accomplished backs over his career and he sees a lot of potential in this entire group, but specifically Thomas and Miller. He noticed the difference in Thomas’ appearance in terms of less body fat and looking leaner and quicker while weighing in at a solid 236 pounds and expects a solid year out of Thomas.
In Miller, Nixon sees an improved and explosive back with a similar skill set to Bush as far as his speed and cutting ability and someone that can be a threat as a receiver out of the backfield in addition to being an effective rusher and blocker. He believes the value of that type of back can never be overstated.
“I was fortunate having coached in Philadelphia to have coached Brian Westbrook and LeSean McCoy and those guys were complete backs,” Nixon said. “They could run the ball, they could catch the ball and Brian Westbrook was one of the best blockers I’ve ever seen. That’s why I’m trying to make Lamar and Daniel Thomas complete backs who can do it all and who can stay on the field for all three downs.”
Thomas battled injuries in each of his first two seasons, with a hamstring costing him playing time as a rookie and a concussion taking him out of the action last year. He also had an issue with fumbles and he is intent on changing all of that this time around.
“My confidence level was so high as a rookie. Then I got hurt and I wasn’t the same,” Thomas said. “Then last year I didn’t put the work in I should have. That’s why I felt I had those injuries. Then this year I came in with a different attitude, changed my workouts and had a different mindset. I’ve got to focus on little things because I’ve got to be able to run the ball this year. There’s no way around that. I’ve got to hold onto the ball and protect it.”
If everything works as planned for the Dolphins, Miller and Thomas will end being compliments to each other and helping the offense.