Reggie Bush silenced his critics last season, proving that he could shoulder the load as an NFL featured back for the Miami Dolphins in 2011.
Can the former Heisman Trophy winner do it again, and will he continue to blossom in Miami's new west coast offense, which should highlight his pass catching skills?
That's the biggest question regarding the Dolphins' ground game, which features Daniel Thomas and Lamar Miller, two talented, young tailbacks who could eat into Bush's snaps considering he's a free agent at the end of the season.
Bush will need to continue averaging 5.0 yards per carry to hold off the youngsters.
RUNNING BACKS: Starter – Reggie Bush. Backups – Daniel Thomas, Lamar Miller, Steve Slaton, Marcus Thigpen, Jerome Messam, Jonas Gray
BY THE NUMBER: Last year Bush averaged 14.4 carries (216) per contest in the 15 games he played, and Thomas averaged 12.6 carries in the 13 games he played for the Dolphins. The Dolphins averaged 29.3 carries per game last season, but those carries should decrease in 2012 considering Miami intends to be a pass-first team.
ON THE HOT SEAT: Slaton, who averaged 3.5 yards on his 24 carries last season, hasn't done much in the NFL since his impressive rookie season in 2008. The Dolphins will try to find someone better, someone who possesses more upside than this 26-year-old.
THE KEEPERS: The Dolphins will probably keep at least four tailbacks on the 53-man roster, and one on the practice squad. Bush, Thomas and Miller are locks because of their draft status and profile, and the rest are fighting for the leftovers if everyone remains healthy.
BREAKDOWN: Bush, who rushed for 1,086 yards and scored seven touchdowns in the 15 games he played last season, is a better fit in this west coast offense. His ability to catch passes out the backfield should make him one of the Dolphins’ top offensive targets. He caught 43 passes last season, and should be marketed as much, if not more in 2011. But Bush is 27, and has had durability issues throughout his entire NFL career.
Behind Bush are two promising tailbacks in Thomas and Miller, whose skills complement one another. The Dolphins envision Thomas as the team’s third down back because of his hands, and ability as a blocker. Last year Thomas started out strong, but fizzled at the end, averaging just 3.5 yards per carry. The coaches believe participating in a full NFL offseason program should help Thomas, a 2011 second-round pick, regain the powerful rushing style he had at Kansas State.
Miller’s addition gives the Dolphins another tailback with sub-4.4 speed. He'll be sprinkled in, handling some of those scatback plays designed for Bush. However, the shoulder injury that tanked his draft stock remains a concern. But his addition makes Slaton expendable.
The Dolphins need to see what youngsters like Thigpen and Messam, two CFL imports, and rookie Jonas Gray bring to the table. However, Gray is recovering from an ACL injury he suffered in November and might begin the season on the PUP list. These three tailbacks are options for the practice squad, unless they prove they are worthy of 53-man status. Each should have the opportunity to do so in the exhibition season.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times