2020 Training Camp Preview: Running Backs

The return of football is always a welcome sight, perhaps now more than ever before. An arduous offseason is in the books and everyone's favorite time of year is on the precipice. August in Miami means heat, humidity, hitting and hard decisions made in order to trim the roster down to 53 in time for Week 1.

In this training camp preview, we're going position-by-position giving you a glimpse into every member of the Miami Dolphins roster. We'll cover all the angles including who the players are on the field and off of it.

On today's docket, the running backs, in order of jersey number.

Malcolm Perry – Rookie
Jersey: 10
College: Navy
Opening Day Age: 23

The Army-Navy game is an annual tradition with 120 meetings over its illustrious history. The record-holder for rushing yardage in a single game in that rivalry (304 last December) is now a Miami Dolphin. It wasn't just Army that Malcolm Perry ran roughshod on, he piled up 2,017 rushing yards in 2019, second-most in college football.

Perry is an explosive runner with twitch, speed and vision. He carried the football 295 times in 2019 and 22 percent (65 total) of those runs exceeded 10 yards. Ken Niumatalolo, Head Coach at Navy, said Perry's "running instincts are as good as [he's] ever seen."

"Hearing the things he had to say was a dream come true."@WingfieldNFL chatted with Malcolm Perry after he was drafted. pic.twitter.com/M1u4TysfM1

— Miami Dolphins (@MiamiDolphins) April 29, 2020

Perry participated in the East-West Shrine showcase back in January and carried the ball only once in the game. He ripped off a 52-yard touchdown run to give his team a fourth quarter lead.

He played quarterback, slot back and receiver over his four-year career at the Naval Academy, but Perry is officially listed at running back on the Dolphins roster.

Matt Breida – 3 accrued seasons (1st in MIA)
Jersey: 20
College: Georgia Southern
Opening Day Age: 25

Owner of the fastest registered top-speed (22.3 and 22.09 MPH) in the NFL each of the last two years, Matt Breida continues to earn his rhyming nickname -- 'Cheetah.' The Dolphins sent a fifth-round pick to the 49ers on draft weekend to acquire the speedster with a 5.0 yard per carry average on 381 career attempts.

The old adage says that speed never slumps. For Breida, whether it's in his pads or working out in shorts, he can go. He ran a 4.38 40-yard dash at his college pro day and jumped 42.5 inches in the vertical.

Breida is a conversion machine. Twenty-two percent of his career runs moved the chains and he's converted 110 of his 448 touches into first downs, including six of seven carries on third- or fourth-and-short (two yards or less).

According to Pro Football Focus last year, Breida lined up in the backfield on 246 snaps. He was in the slot for six plays and flexed out wide on 16 occasions. He played 85 snaps on special teams. Breida's 67 catches were good for a 75.3 percent catch rate (89 targets) and an average of 8.4 yards per reception.

49ers Head Coach Kyle Shanahan praised Breida's work habits last summer in San Francisco, a sentiment echoed by Dolphins Head Coach Brian Flores.

"As far as Matt (Breida) the player, this is a very explosive, young running back with good vision and can create a lot of big plays," Flores said back on April 25, the day the team acquired him. "But he's also tough, he's also smart, he also has a lot of the qualities that we're looking for in our players. It was an exciting phone call to have with him and can't want to get him out here."

Kalen Ballage – 2 accrued seasons (3rd in MIA)
Jersey: 27
College: Arizona State
Opening Day Age: 24

Like Breida, Ballage has his name near the top of the fastest game-day speed charts. In 2018, on a 75-yard gallop to the end zone in Minnesota, Ballage topped out at 21.87 MPH – seventh-fastest in the league that year.

As he did in college, Ballage served as the Dolphins' primary triggerman in Wildcat packages. A downhill runner, Ballage drops his pads behind a 6-foot-2, 237-pound frame to give the Dolphins a viable short-yardage option. Ballage converted seven-of-eight first downs on runs with one yard or less to gain, including all three of his touchdown runs.

Ballage's positional coach, Eric Studesville admires Ballage's work ethic.

"The guy is passionate about the game and how he does for a young guy, and the professionalism that he brings to everything," Studesville said last season.

Patrick Laird – 1 accrued season (2nd in MIA)
Jersey: 32
College: Cal
Opening Day Age: 24

Ryan Fitzpatrick joked throughout last year that Patrick Laird was mistaken around the building as the intern. But Laird's production on Sunday quickly made it known that he was a football player, and a pretty good one.

An undrafted rookie, Laird played in a multitude of capacities for the 2019 Dolphins. He totaled 546 snaps, including 221 on special teams. He was a factor both as a runner and in the passing game, as he gained 372 yards from scrimmage (168 rushing and 204 receiving). Of his 292 offensive snaps, 47 came aligned as a slot or perimeter receiver and even one as the triggerman in a Wildcat package.

That versatility wasn't new for Laird, as he was a prominent pass catcher in college. He caught 99 balls at Cal, including 51 for 288 yards and four touchdowns his senior season.

Special Teams Coordinator Danny Crossman was impressed with Laird's contributions on his coverage and return units, but also Laird's workmanlike mentality.

"He's getting better every week," Crossman said last year. "He's conscientious. He works hard. He studies hard. We really like where he's going, along with a lot of other guys trending in the right direction."

Jordan Howard – 4 accrued seasons (1st in MIA)
Jersey: 34
College: Indiana
Opening Day Age: 25

A fifth-round pick in 2016, few backs have produced at the level of new Dolphins running back Jordan Howard. Since entering the league, Howard has the third-most rushing yards (3,895) and seventh-most rushing touchdowns (30) in the NFL. He is one of five backs to rush for at least six touchdowns in each of the last five seasons.

Howard is a complete back that utilizes a rare blend of vision and power to create poor angles and slip arm tackles of pursuing defenders. Analyst Brett Kollmann detailed the patience and ability to read blockers that led to an explosion of a rookie season in 2016 for Howard.

Kollmann also notes Howard's pass protection skill set as an invaluable aspect of his game. With 255 career pass blocking reps, according to PFF, Howard has allowed only nine quarterback pressures in his four-year career. His 86.3 pass blocking grade on 92 reps in 2018 was best in the NFL among backs with 32 pass-blocking reps (two per game).

Howard has 110 runs of 10-or-more yards and averages 2.77 yards after initial contact, including a career-high mark in the former stat at 2.93 Y/ACO. Howard has run for 215 career first downs and averages 4.3 yards per rush. On 50 career carries on third-or-fourth-and-short (three yards or less), Howard has converted 37 into first downs – a 74 percent conversion rate.

After signing with the Dolphins in the opening week of free agency, Howard told South Florida media why he chose Miami.

"I just thought it was a good opportunity for me," Howard said. "I feel like this is an up-and-coming team. I've heard from people about the exciting things they are doing. I know a lot of people were trying to say they were trying to not be competitive last year but they beat a few good teams last year late in the season. I definitely feel like this is a team that's on the rise."

Myles Gaskin – 1 accrued season (2nd in MIA)
Jersey: 37
College: Washington
Opening Day Age: 23

Though he had abbreviated work as a rookie, the former Washington Husky showed glimpses of similar production as a pro. As a collegian, Myles Gaskin surpassed 1,200 rushing yards in each of his four years in the purple and gold, earning his way onto the Miami roster as a late-round draft pick in 2019.

Gaskin played 143 snaps as a rookie with 125 coming on offense. According to Pro Football Focus, Gaskin led all Dolphins backs with 3.28 yards after contact average, yards per carry (3.7) and longest rush (27 yards). Gaskin's collegiate production wasn't exclusive to the running game, and he carried that receiving prowess to the NFL, catching seven of 10 targets for 51 yards with 47 of those yards coming after the catch.

Gaskin's incremental improvement throughout the season on the practice field caught the eye of Coach Flores.

"This is a kid who's really improved over the course of the season from a preparation standpoint, from a process standpoint, and he's gotten a lot better from where he was in rookie minicamp to where he was last week," Flores said near the end of the 2019 season.

Chandler Cox – 1 accrued season (2nd in MIA)
Jersey: 38
College: Auburn
Opening Day Age: 24

Some of the biggest collisions fans will see and hear when watching this Dolphins team come courtesy of second-year fullback Chandler Cox. Donning the classic neck roll and a number only a fullback can make sexy, Cox gave the Dolphins more variety from 21-personnel packages.

"The one thing about Chandler, Chandler will go and attack," Studesville said last year. "That's part of the job description of that position which is why there's not very many guys that like that job description. I think it's the same thing, guys aren't always finished products. Depending on from week to week what we're doing game plan-wise, Chandler has been ready to go every week. He's prepared, he's excited, he brings a great energy to it and he's going to go in and do to the best of his ability everything that we're asking him to do."

Cox played 66 snaps as a rookie and allowed only one quarterback pressure on 10 pass-blocking snaps. He didn't catch any passes, but he was a part of the Auburn passing game in college. Cox caught 26 balls for 237 yards and a touchdown during his collegiate career.

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