DAVIE, Fla. -- The South Florida sun is beaming on the Miami Dolphins this week during training camp. They were among the first handful of teams to kick off the 2013 NFL season, and the July weather is unrelenting.
But no spotlight in Miami is hotter or brighter right now than it is on Lamar Miller. The Dolphins, who have playoff aspirations, are banking on their second-year tailback to carry the running game despite a small sample size in Miller's rookie season.
Miller is a proud Miami product through and through. He grew up in Miami, played high school football in the city and was a star running back in college for the Miami Hurricanes. Last year, Miller completed the Miami football trifecta when he was drafted by the Dolphins in the fourth round.
This year, Miller gets the rare opportunity to be the featured runner for his hometown NFL team. The Dolphins showed a lot of confidence in Miller this offseason by letting leading rusher Reggie Bush walk in free agency. It was Miller, not Bush, who led Miami with 4.9 yards per attempt last season, and the Dolphins expect more of the same in 2013.
Miller appears ready for the challenge. He certainly has a quiet confidence about him in Year 2 that he didn't have as a rookie.
“I feel very comfortable just getting used to running the ball, the offensive line scheme and just being [involved] more,” Miller said. “I just know what I’m doing. I’m not second-guessing too much, and I’m just doing what the coaches are telling me to do. Last year, I was thinking about it too much.”
Are the Dolphins making the right decision? It’s too early to tell whether Miller can handle the load after just 51 carries last season.
Miller ranked 10th among rookie rushers last season with 250 rushing yards. Other drafted running backs such as Alfred Morris (1,613 yards) of the Washington Redskins, Doug Martin (1,454 yards) of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Trent Richardson (950 yards) of the Cleveland Browns had far more productive rookie campaigns and are safer bets as starters in 2013.
However, Miller has been praised by the Dolphins all offseason. Miami’s coaching staff and front office are seemingly as high on Miller as Washington is on Morris and Cleveland is on Richardson. It's a calculated risk, but Miller is doing all the right things at this point to make the Dolphins feel secure in their decision.
“[Miller] is very, very fundamentally sound,” Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin said. “He is a guy where we talk to our team about ball security. ...There were a lot of good clips we showed the ball club yesterday of him in practice executing the fundamental of where we want to.
“I think his knowledge of the system has definitely increased. He appears to be a lot more comfortable in what he is doing. [There] doesn’t appear to be much indecision in his play. He’s doing a nice job.”
The hunger for more is what’s fueling Miller. He made a wise decision this offseason to train with four-time Pro Bowl tailback and fellow University of Miami alum Frank Gore. Miller looks up to Gore, 30, because they have a lot of similarities. Gore also is a Miami native who took a similar path to the NFL by starring at the University of Miami. Similar to Miller, who suffered a shoulder injury in college, Gore (knees) also entered the NFL with injury concerns but went on to have a stellar career.
Miller believes his time with Gore will make him a better NFL player in 2013.
“He gave me a lot of advice, going from his first year to now,” Miller explained. “He taught me how to pass protect, catch the ball out of the backfield and take whatever the defense is giving me.”
Being a starting running back in Philbin’s offense isn’t easy. The player must have multiple talents, many of which do not include just running the ball.
Philbin and offensive coordinator Mike Sherman run a quarterback-heavy West Coast system that requires running backs to do a lot of pass protecting and catching the football in open space. The closest comparison would be Pro Bowl quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ offense in Green Bay, where Philbin served as offensive coordinator from 2007-11. Philbin is trying to mold the Dolphins into a similar attacking-style offense.
The Bush safety net is no longer available for Miller. He is the focal point of Miami’s running game and must prove he can be a complete tailback. Miller averaged just 3.2 carries per game last season, and that number could get into the 20s on most weeks this year.
There is certainly a buzz in Miami that Miller is ready to produce his first 1,000-yard season. But Miller isn’t focusing on his own preseason hype.
“I hear people talking about it, but I really try not to get into it,” Miller said. “I’m just staying humble and just staying focused on what the team wants me to do.”