Young Running Backs Making Strides

The stats on the roster serve as evidence that the Dolphins have a very young group of running backs, but there’s also a lot of talent there.

The preseason opener against the Atlanta Falcons served as a pretty good showcase.

The Dolphins spread out the workload in the running game in their 34-27 victory at Hard Rock Stadium, with four backs getting six rushing attempts and Kenyan Drake getting four.

More importantly, all the running backs who got their hands on the ball contributed to the offensive output.

Drake had a 9-yard run on the first offensive play of the game; Kalen Ballage had a 16-yard run and later ended the Dolphins’ first touchdown drive with a 1-yard dive over the top; Mark Walton had a 9-yard run and a 1-yard TD; Patrick Laird had the longest run of the game with a 19-yard gain in the second half; and rookie seventh-round pick Myles Gaskin had two fourth-quarter touchdowns, including the game-winning 6-yard score with 1:47 remaining in the fourth quarter.

Rookie fullback Chandler Cox didn’t get the ball, but contributed with his blocking, in particular when he led the way for Walton’s easy TD run to the outside.

“I think just the type of guys we have in that room, everybody is competing,” Gaskin said after the game. “Everybody is pushing each other to get better. I like that about our room. You got big man over here (Ballage) pushing me every day. We got Mark. We got Pat. Everybody is pushing everybody. We just all want to get better and I think that’s what going to make us a great room.”

Of the seven running backs on the roster — including Kenneth Farrow, who saw action on special teams against Atlanta but did not play on offense — Drake has the most NFL experience going into his fourth season. Farrow is the oldest at 26, Drake is 25, and the other five are either 22 or 23.

Drake and Ballage are the two holdovers from a 2018 group that included veteran Frank Gore, as well as Brandon Bolden and Senorise Perry.

Whether the Dolphins again keep five running backs on the 53-man roster — an unusually high number — remains to be seen, but there should be plenty of competition for spots and playing time at that position.

So any opportunity the running backs have, whether it be in practice or a preseason game, is an important one.

Veteran quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick kind of alluded to that after the game Thursday when he talked about opening the preseason.

“It warms my heart because for so long I was scratching and clawing and trying to make rosters and all these reps in games and whether it’s first, second, third or fourth really meant a lot to me,” Fitzpatrick said. “And so it’s so much fun to watch guys — Mark Walton, Myles, WR Preston (Williams), Patrick – the guys stepping up and making plays and QB Jake (Rudock) having a couple nice drives, too, at the end there. It’s good to see because there’s a lot of hard work that goes into this thing by a lot of different people and it’s nice to see guys get an opportunity to go out there and show what they have.”

The Dolphins’ overall rushing numbers against Atlanta weren’t overwhelming, but there were enough positive signs to offer optimism moving forwards.

It also but one step in the preparation for the regular season and the idea is to keep improving all the way to that Sept. 8 opener against the Baltimore Ravens.

“It was a great feeling, but definitely got a lot to work on,” Gaskin said. “Definitely kind of got the jitters out of the way. I’m ready to watch the film, I know there’s going to probably be some things that probable going to be some bad, but I’m ready to hear those things.”

Said Drake: “The backs scored three touchdowns today, so our room is doing pretty good. We’ll look at the film and see what we can improve on.”

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