No longer a secret weapon on special teams thanks to his prowess as a kick returner and punt returner,
Thigpen turned his first NFL carry last Sunday against the New England Patriots into an 8-yard gain after it looked like he might be dropped for a loss. The 5-foot-9, 185-pound speedster from Detroit lined up as a wide receiver near the far sideline, came in motion on the end around and then encountered Patriots defensive end Rob Ninkovich right at the spot on the left edge where he was supposed to run.
Instead of taking the hit, the elusive Thigpen made a nice move cutting back to the inside and finding a seam to pick up the first down. He not only impressed his teammates with his moves but he left a strong impression on offensive coordinator Mike Sherman.
“I mean it wasn’t a great call by any stretch because the end played the play perfectly,” Sherman said. “They defended it, and so he bailed us out, bailed me out, on that play. I went into the game thinking that I wanted to have some misdirection, some fake misdirection to hold off the back side end while running the ball with zone off the front side. So I had that in my head we’re going to do some of those things, but on that particular play they read it perfectly and Thigpen made a great cut and got downfield and got us eight yards, which could have been a seven-yard loss. So I’m very thankful for his abilities on that play.”
Neither Thigpen nor his fellow running backs, receivers and offensive linemen were too surprised with the run that he made, even though he had been restricted to just return duties through the first 11 games. He was a multi-purpose threat at the University of Indiana, compiling 4,658 all-purpose yards, and then he enjoyed success up in the Canadian Football League with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats from 2010-11.
So as his practice reps increased, Thigpen felt more and more comfortable with the possibility of getting in the game on offense and having a chance to make an impact play or two. When his number was called in the first quarter on a drive that ended with
“It felt great because that feels like home for me. I’ve been a running back my whole life,” said Thigpen, who ranks fourth in the league among kick and punt returners with a minimum of 10 returns. “I’m playing some receiver now just so I can fit in and learn the whole system, but just being out there and getting the hang of it felt good. It got us a first down and moved the chains so it was a positive.”
Thigpen’s ability to make that first defender miss, be it in the return game or out of the backfield, is something that can’t be taught. Bush and Miller both have it and Thomas does as well to a degree and he is one of Thigpen’s biggest supporters.
“He’s versatile and we’ve been seeing that ever since OTAs,” Thomas said. “He can do everything – receiver, running back or whatever you need him to do he can do it all. So it wasn’t that surprising to us.”
Two years ago, Thigpen became the first player in the history of the CFL to score a touchdown five different ways in a single season – kickoff return, punt return, missed field goal return, a running play and a reception. So far this season he has one punt return for a touchdown (72 yards at Houston) and one kickoff return for a touchdown (96 yards at Buffalo) and became the first Dolphin to do that in the same season.
Head Coach Joe Philbin has liked what he has seen out of Thigpen since OTAs and training camp as well and when special teams coordinator Darren Rizzi made him the primary return man, Philbin was on board. Last week’s run against the Patriots validated that decision.
“Well, he’s got that elusiveness that’s kind of hard to coach,” Philbin said. “He can make a guy miss, and if you can make a guy miss, he did it (last Sunday) the one play he got his hands on the ball, he made the guy miss, it’s big. If you can do that in football, it gives you a chance to get out into space and you might have a lot of green grass and gain a lot of yards. He did a good job making a guy miss.”
Now the Dolphins have put something else on film for the San Francisco 49ers to have to game plan for. In previous weeks, wide receiver
Both wide receiver
“Doing what I have done so far has helped me out a lot not just for now but for getting me ready just in case they do want to use me more next season,” Thigpen said. “I have that experience now of coming out of the backfield or catching the ball from the slot, so it’s definitely helped my confidence. It’s like second nature once I get the ball in my hands because it’s the same thing in the return game, but being able to do it on offense definitely helps my ego.”