Versatility Has Become Thigpen’s Calling Card

Posted Dec 19, 2013

Dolphins’ speedy kick returner is contributing more on offense.

Back in May during OTAs, Miami Dolphins running back Marcus Thigpen pledged to become more involved on the offensive side of the ball in his second season with the team.

It appears he has made good on that pledge.

Last Sunday, Thigpen caught the game-winning touchdown against the New England Patriots from 14 yards out with 1:15 remaining in the fourth quarter and it was his seventh reception of the season for a total of 86 yards. He also has carried the ball six times for 18 yards and has validated his role as an all-purpose threat for Miami.

“It’s been a blessing and I’ve just got to be patient. I know my time is coming,” Thigpen said. “We definitely work on a lot of stuff in practice and just to see it finally happen has definitely been good for me. I’ve been excited to be out there.”

Thigpen already had established himself as one of the more dangerous punt returners and kick returners in the National Football League by finishing in the top six in both average punt return yards (27.4) and average kickoff return yards (12.2) in 2012. He had a 96-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and a 72-yard punt return for a touchdown, but the former CFL player didn’t want to be pigeon holed into just one role.

After veteran running back Reggie Bush was not re-signed and ended up with the Detroit Lions it opened up some possibilities in the backfield for Thigpen. His speed, quickness and sure hands also gave offensive coordinator Mike Sherman ideas on how he could fit into the passing game as a wide receiver and he has managed to win over Head Coach Joe Philbin.

“We really like his versatility a lot. He is a guy who can fill in at a number of different spots,” said Philbin, who has seen Thigpen line up in the slot, out wide and catch passes out of the backfield. “Those kinds of guys are valuable throughout the course of a game. We’ve utilized him at certain points in various roles already, but if injuries were to hit at certain positions he could fit in at a lot of spots. As you are filling out the roster, as you well know, we only get 46 spots for a game day. It’s a big benefit to have a player like that.”

During his college career at the Indiana from 2005-09, Thigpen was the ultimate multi-purpose threat and racked up 4,658 all-purpose yards. He became the first player in school history to rush for more than 1,000 yards, compile more than 1,000 receiving yards and go over 1,000 yards on kickoff returns (he actually surpassed 2,000 with 2,009).

So being asked to where many hats is not foreign to the Detroit native, and he performed the same roles in his two CFL seasons with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. His natural receiving skills were evident on the touchdown catch against the Patriots when he had to adjust his route after the linebacker covering him took away the inside leverage. He wheeled to the outside and gave quarterback Ryan Tannehill a nice target to place the ball and credits the other receivers like Mike Wallace and Brian Hartline for helping him with those kinds of plays.

“That’s something that the receivers have been teaching me because I’ve been in all of the meeting rooms, running backs and receivers,” Thigpen said. “So it’s just watching those guys and being able to know in that situation that if I can beat him outside and go ahead and go forward, hopefully me and Tannehill will be on the same page. I definitely give credit to Tannehill just for trusting me and throwing the ball up seeing that I had him beat and the receivers as well. I’ve been watching those guys and the way they run their routes and make their moves. They taught me a lot about how to do that so I give credit to the receivers and Tannehill.”

Tannehill didn’t get to see the end result of his throw because he was shielded from view by his big left tackle, 6-foot-8-inch Bryant McKinnie. But he never doubted Thigpen on the play.

“It wasn’t how we expected it to play out,” said Tannehill, who threw three touchdowns in the 24-20 win. “He had outside leverage and we expected inside, but he found a way to win. I couldn’t really see him at all behind big McKinnie. I trusted him, threw it out there and he made the adjustment and got into the end zone.”

The next thing Thigpen knew he was being mobbed by fans in the back of the end zone and actually needed tight end Charles Clay to come to his rescue and pry him away from the crowd. As happy has he felt about his first career touchdown catch, Thigpen knew there was still plenty of time left for Patriots quarterback Tom Brady to ruin his party and his coaches reminded him to get ready to go back out there in case Brady delivered another one of his patented comebacks.

Of course as it turned out, another unsung player that Thigpen could relate to in defensive back Michael Thomas came up with the game-saving interception in the end zone with two seconds left. He took solace in knowing that two players not known as regular contributors delivered the two signature plays of the game and have the faith and confidence of the coaching staff and their teammates.

“That means a lot to me, just knowing that they had that trust to even put me in in that situation,” Thigpen said. “We were down trying to drive and score and they put me in on 2nd-and-10. Just for the coaches to have that trust in me means a lot to me and my whole versatility has just helped me out a lot, even in college and the CFL, that’s helped me to get where I am at now. But I expected to get in there and I expect big things from myself and coaches do as well, so to be able to go in there and finally make something happen is definitely a good feeling.”