LaMichael James took a risk when he requested his release from the 49ers early last season, frustrated after receiving just 41 carries in two-plus seasons.
He found a job with the Dolphins three weeks later, initially on the practice squad and then on the 53-man roster beginning in mid-November. But he had only three carries, for nine yards.
Now the former Oregon star is challenging for the backup running back job behind Lamar Miller. James has been productive in the first week of camp, both running the ball and as a receiver out of the backfield.
“I can do anything,” he said. “I can play receiver, running back, returner. Any situation they put me, I feel I’ll be good at…. I love my chances against anybody. I just have to believe in myself.”
Asked to assess the battle for the No. 2 running back job, Joe Philbin on Thursday said: “I think Damien Williams has had a really good camp. LaMichael James has done well as well.
“Jay (Ajayi) is picking things up and improving. I think it’s a good group.” He also mentioned Mike Gillislee’s work in the red zone, though he’s seemingly a long shot to stick.
“I think the preseason games will help iron it out a little bit, but I really like the group,” Philbin said.
James, a 2012 second-round pick, assuredly didn’t expect to have fewer than 50 career carries heading into his fourth season.
“You’ve got to persevere,” he said. “Never get discouraged. A lot of guys in the face of adversity start to question their ability. You can’t do that.”
### Dallas Thomas (shoulder) and Koa Misi (calf) missed practice but both said neither of their injuries would keep them out an extended period. Louis Delmas, Cam Wake and Greg Jennings were given a “rest” day, and Will Davis sat out practice to rest his surgically-repaired knee.
### Jordan Phillips and emerging Anthony Johnson have received most of the second-team work at defensive tackle, leaving veteran CJ Mosley at risk. Mosley, 32, who’s close with Ndamukong Suh, has played 10 years in the NFL and started eight games for Detroit last season.
Asked if Mosley will be on the team, Philbin said: “We’ll see what happens.”
Mosley hasn’t received a lot of snaps with the top two groups and Philbin said “sometimes younger players we want to get exposed to a little bit more than some maybe an older player…. But some of it is based on merit, too.”
Johnson has been very disruptive in practice this week, including a sack Thursday.
"The thing I really like about him,” Philbin said, “is the way he plays the game first and foremost. I think he’s aggressive. He plays hard and fast. His technique has improved over year one.”
### The Dolphins expect FIU Stadium to be near capacity, if not sold out completely, for Friday night's intrasquad scrimmage.
With Sun Life Stadium unavailable because of ongoing renovations, the Dolphins decided to hold their annual practice game in Miami-Dade, where some 40 percent of their fan base lives.
As of Thursday morning, more than 12,000 tickets had already been sold. Tickets remain available at Dolphins.com and can also be purchased at the gate.
"We haven't done a scrimmage down there, to our knowledge, since the Shula era," said Jeremy Walls, the team's chief revenue officer. "A lot of our fans have told us, we would love if you did something down that way -- the Coral Gables, Kendall, Doral area. ... This is one of the great venues down there that can hold a lot of people."
Parking lots open at 4 p.m. and tailgating will be allowed. The practice starts at 6:30 p.m., with the scrimmage beginning at 7. Fireworks and player autographs will follow.
### Our Adam Beasley reports that the NFL has directed the Dolphins (and all 31 other franchises) to offer their season ticket holders the opportunity to reserve non-binding playoff tickets -- in August and September.
The Dolphins are giving their fans the chance to opt in if the team makes the playoffs. Those who sign up are committed to buy postseason tickets once the team qualifies, but will only be charged if the team hosts a game.
The move is in response to the embarrassing situation two years ago with the Green Packers, who needed help from local businesses to sell out their home wild card game against the 49ers.
### Philbin, on what he wants in Friday’s scrimmage:
"We want to see a lot of different combinations of people. We want to get a lot of people involved, we want to get a good evaluation on really hopefully everybody on the roster that’s going to go. That’s number one. We want to get some situational work accomplished, continue to work on the red zone, continue to work on two-minute.
“Obviously, defensively, offense didn’t do much yesterday. They did quite a bit, first-team offense was successful. We want to do another two-minute thing. So a lot of situations and also just exposure, the younger guys will probably get a little bit more so we get a good evaluation so they get their feet wet before we go to Chicago.”
### Ryan Tannehill, who struggled with the deep ball throughout camp last year, has improved his touch dramatically. He completed two more vertical throws today, including a 50-yarder to Rishard Matthews, who beat Louis Delmas.
### Regarding Evan Mathis, Armando Salguero (as reported in his blog) and I both heard this morning that dialogue remains ongoing.
The Dolphins have interest in Mathis but not (yet) at the price he wants, which is in the $5.5 million range. The Dolphins might be motivated to increase what they're willing to pay if the young guards struggle in Friday's scrimmage and/or Thursday's preseason opener at Chicago.
Direct conflict between Dolphins and Canes practices today, and I was at Dolphins, where practice is open (unlike Canes' practice, except for Friday).
A few thoughts from Al Golden on the first day of camp:
### On Joe Yearby, who’s back with the team: "He missed the workouts with the team but he didn't miss the voluntary workouts. He came back a few days later and passed the conditioning test and that spoke volumes to the team.
“Look, we had kids who needed to lose weight, kids that needed to gain weight, kids that needed to take more classes than I would want anyone to take during the summer. He needed to take care of some personal things and some family things and we gave him a space and he rewarded that trust incredibly.”
### On Brad Kaaya: “I'm not worried about Brad. He's too busy doing the things you're supposed to do, you don't have to worry about what's going on outside, and he's the ultimate team player here so I think part of that is to make sure everybody understands that he's leading by example every day.
"He's putting the work in. He's made a lot of progress obviously with his body and command of the offense, and his conditioning with everything over the last year.”
### On the receivers: “Braxton Berrios looks great. He's a year and a half removed from his ACL. Now he looks so much leaner then a year ago. Herb [Waters is] 197 pounds pounds, Rashawn [Scott] is 205, Stacy [Coley] is in the 190s now. Those guys worked their tails off, you know? Malcolm Lewis looks good. It's an exciting group."
### What needs to improve? "So many. But if we don't become a smarter and more disciplined team we're going to continue to have to have the same results. There is so much lost in penalties. We went 825 yards in the wrong direction.
“We didn't operate very well on third down; we've got to do better there. We've got to be the smarter team and execute a little bit better and we finished minus-1 in the turnover ratio. It's hard to win like that. That's been the challenge since January 12. I am hopeful that these guys understand what they need to do to play good ball.”
### On the return of Rayshawn Jenkins and Hunter Knighton: “Obviously Hunter is representative of who we want to be. He smart, he's tough, he's disciplined, and he's a worker.
"And Jenks, as I told the team last night, just a tremendous job. Just a long road for him, he went from being the starter to being out for 18 months so I'm happy for him. He's lean, he's worked hard and there is going to be a lot of opportunities for him.”
Twitter: @flasportsbuzz... Check back tonight for a lot more Dolphins and Canes.