FRIDAY BUZZ COLUMN
The running back with the sterling 5.4 per-carry average hasn’t had a carry in three weeks. The running back with one of the league’s lowest rushing averages openly yearns to start (eventually). And the starter – the team’s most accomplished skill position player, mind you – said he has no idea if the Dolphins want to keep him.
Such are the odd dynamics of Miami’s running back situation. Some points to chew on:
### Dolphins coaches remain bullish on No. 2 back Daniel Thomas --- in spite of his erratic production - and Thomas wants to use the final month to “to show I can be a starting back. That’s what I want to do. I think they know I can.”
Does that make it awkward with impending free agent Reggie Bush? “No,” he said. “That’s the NFL. Nobody is here forever.”
But here’s the issue: Though Thomas has shown flashes and physicality, Bush remains more productive. Bush’s 4.4 average ranks 20th among qualifying backs; Thomas is 43rd at 3.6 and only five NFL backs with as many carries have a lower average.
Bush also has been better the past six games since the bye week, averaging 4.4 to Thomas’ 3.9.
And this is a red flag: Four times this season, Thomas has received at least 10 carries in a game. He has averaged 3.6, 2.9, 2.8 and 2.8 yards in those games – not encouraging if you’re going into next season projecting him as a potential starter.
Against New England, Thomas “played 43 percent of the snaps and had about as bad a day as a player can have,” Pro Football Focus said, noting he gained 10 yards on five carries, fumbled and “was abysmal in pass protection,” which he’s usually decent at.
Thomas said coaches want him "to break leg tackles and try to make guys miss."
### Bush has played 10 more snaps than Thomas in the past two games, after Thomas played substantially more in the previous four.
### Bush said Thursday he wants to return but the team has not told him if they plan to offer him a contract, and he’s curious.
The sense here, from people involved, is that he’s likely to go into free agency unsigned barring a change of heart by the Dolphins, who appear disinclined to pay him as much or more than his current salary ($4.5 million). Bush won't be motivated to take a paycut after two solid years of work here. So I'll be surprised if Bush returns, but we'll see how it plays out.
(Quick aside: The Dolphins showed no interest in re-signing Ronnie Brown for months in 2010, then made him a late offer before he signed with Philadelphia.)
Remember, offensive coordinator Mike Sherman prefers to play only two backs and the Dolphins have two younger and much cheaper ones already under contract for 2013 (Thomas, Lamar Miller) who can compete to start next season.
Some aren’t so sure that’s the right approach.
"Reggie brings a lot more to the table than… their other backs,” Emmitt Smith, the NFL’s all-time leading rusher, told me at an endorsement event for Lincoln’s new MKZ Luxury Vehicle. “He’s been very productive and they can use all the help they can get. It warrants offering him a new contract.”
### The biggest surprise is that the Dolphins haven’t used Bush as a receiver nearly as much as everyone expected, Bush included. “Yeah, I wondered about that,” Bush said. “The proof is there.” Joe Philbin tap-danced when asked about that Thursday.
Bush is on pace for career lows in receptions (32) and receiving yards (252), excluding the 2010 season when he played eight games.
That’s well below his reception totals (88, 73) to start his career in New Orleans. The Dolphins suggested before the season that Bush often would line up in the slot and create mismatches, but many of his receptions have come on check-downs.
### The Dolphins don’t believe they need to see more of Miller – who is averaging 5.4 yards on 27 carries - to make a conclusion about him. “He’s going to be a good player,” Philbin said Thursday. “Good instincts as a runner, can catch the ball, good feet, has a chance to be a very good pass protector eventually. I’m excited about him.”
Sherman echoes those sentiments: “I’m excited when he gets in the game.”
Said Nolan Carroll: “He so fast and quick, he hits the hole and he’s gone.” And Cameron Wake said he's also "strong and powerful (enough) to run between the tackles."
### Miller said he hopes to get carries in the final month but “I’m patient. My time will come. The same thing happened at UM; I redshirted as a freshman. It makes you humble.”
### Another night, another ignominimous Heat "achievement". Tuesday, the Heat became the first defending NBA champion to lose to a team with a winning percentage as bad as Washington's (.071). Thursday against the Knicks, Miami suffered its worst home lose with the Big Three all in uniform.
Serious concerns are emerging: an inability to stop penetration; a lack of an interior defensive presence (except Joel Anthony); deficient work defending three-pointers (the Knicks went 18 for 44), Mario Chalmers' contined slump; and Dwyane Wade's erratic play.
Wade was 3 for 13 with four turnovers Thursday, and the Heat was outscored by an astounding 33 with Wade on the floor --- the WORST plus/minus of his career. Miami was plus 13 without him.
"We're going to own this - we're not going to brush this off - and then we'll fix this," Erik Spoelstra said afterward. "We have to be honest with ourselves. It's time. We need to address our defense and commit to it."
Is there a sense of anger? "It's getting there," he said. "We're a proud group in that locker room."
Why so many open looks on three pointers? "There were some open threes in the first half that were really unnecessary," Spoelstra said. "There was a lack of concentration or extra effort... We have to do it a whole lot harder than what we're been doing."
### Angry about Thursday's performance, LeBron James went through a workout on the team's practice court after the game. "They kicked our ass. I need to be better," he said.
### Before Thursday's game, Wade disputed Charles Barkley’s claim that the Heat, off a championship, is bored with the regular season. “It’s too early to say that,” Wade said. “People are worried about last year more than we are.” As Hall of Fame coach Jack Ramsay said Thursday, “It’s December! It’s too early for boredom.”
### Spoelstra has spoken to Pat Riley “virtually daily” – and UF coach Billy Donovan during the summer – about how to keep a championship team hungry and engaged. But Riley has not spoken to the team, LeBron James said. Maybe it's time for that.
### Even though injuries left the Heat without a natural point guard for the second half Tuesday - and even though Heat point guards keep being broken down defensively, Spoelstra said Miami has given no thought to adding a third point guard.... After Tuesday, the Heat - oddly - is 2-3 in games in which LeBron James has had a triple double since joining the Heat.
### A year ago, Angelo Jean-Louis was the highest-rated in an exceptional group of Hurricanes receiver recruiters. But academic problems forced Jean-Louis to go to prep school, with the intention of enrolling at UM in 2013. Unfortunately, academics have remained an issue for him at prep school, as well.
Jean-Louis was due to visit UM this weekend, but according to Canesport.com, UM told him not to come, raising questions about whether he will ever enroll here. Regardless, UM is in good shape at receiver and continues to recruit several, including University School's Jordan Cunningham.