I left this afternoon's Joe Philbin press conference scratching my head. (No, not because I'm infested with lice). I was curious because in discussing how players performed against Tampa Bay for the first time since studying the tape, the coach said he liked the way the running backs played.
"I think they played well," Philbin said of Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas. "I thought both of them. Lamar had one of his better days in pass protection. His awareness was excellent. I thought Daniel Thomas had a good game as well. Lamar had a couple of cleaner run opportunities but I thought they both played well."
Daniel Thomas played well? Really?
Thomas, vying with Miller for the starting running back job, basically delivered an unimpressive performance that should have knocked him from the competition. He rushed for 3 yards on seven carries. He caught two passes for 12 yards. Two of his seven carries lost yardage, including a 3 yard loss on first-and-goal.
He didn't break a tackle. He didn't turn a bad play into a positive play. He didn't seem to do anything that suggested the Dolphins running back job is in good hands.
And so that's playing well?
Now, I understand the Dolphins also grade pass protection and picking the right hole or running lane and all that. But this is a results-oriented business, the NFL. And 3 yards on seven carries does not sound like good results to me.
And yet, after a game that strongly suggests Miller is Miami's starting running back and Thomas needs to get better to be the backup, that's not how Philbin is thinking.
Asked if he's settled on a starting running back yet, the coach also did not give the job to Miller.
"Not necessarily," he answered.
Now, I'm not a dumb guy. (OK, maybe I'm not a smart guy but give me that I'm not dumb. Work with me). So maybe, just maybe, the coach gave this answer for some psychological reason or unknown agenda.
Maybe Philbin wants to put the idea out there that Thomas played well and is still competing for the job to motivate Miller and keep him from feeling comfortable. Or maybe the Dolphins wouldn't mind getting rid of Thomas and want to talk him up to improve his value.
But this would be so unPhilbinlike that it sounds improbable to me. The coach may not say much, but he rarely blows smoke.
So I'm stumped.
The coach, meanwhile, had other areas about Saturday's so-called dress-rehearsal that he was happy about:
"I thought our guys played hard. I thought we had a good opening possession," he said. "Obviously, we want to score a touchdown. We got ourselves off the field. We missed a tackle on the opening possession that could have gotten us off the field earlier, but we made a stop. We had a negative yardage play on third down that forced them to punt. We know we had special teams give-aways in the first quarter but I thought we came out ready to play. Our play speed was good overall."