MIAMI (AP) — Receiver Mike Wallace always wants the ball, and now that he has seen how potent the Miami Dolphins’ running attack can be, he’s in the market to take some handoffs next week at tailback.
“Maybe a sweep,” he said with a smile. “Five carries would be cool.”
Wallace wants in on the fun, and so far the ground game has been consistently productive for the otherwise inconsistent Dolphins (2-2).
They reached their bye week on pace for their best season running the ball since 2002, when Ricky Williams won the NFL rushing title.
Ryan Tannehill’s performance and his relationship with coach Joe Philbin have caused consternation, but the dramatic improvement in the ground game might help both keep their jobs.
With a new scheme under first-year offensive coordinator Bill Lazor, Miami is averaging 142 yards rushing per game, sixth-best in the league and a 58 percent improvement from a year ago.
“We’re about where we hoped the running game would be, which is still improving,” Lazor said. “Our players know better now than in the first couple of preseason games exactly what it’s going to look like, how it’s going to go and what people are going to try to do to stop it. So I think we are gaining confidence. We hoped it would be gaining momentum, and it is.”
Lazor’s spread formations and zone blocking are a combination new to many of his players. And with five new starters in the line to begin the season, growing pains were expected.
The passing attack has indeed sputtered, and Philbin caused a brief stir last month when he was publicly noncommittal about Tannehill’s status as the starter. But the ground game has provided stability, with the Dolphins rushing for at least 80 yards in four consecutive games.
They never did that last year.
“Everybody is trying to find their role and perfect the running game,” said guard Daryn Colledge, a ninth-year veteran. “For a lot of guys, including me, this is a new scheme. A lot of guys are trying to find the best way to do it for themselves. But we’re adapting, and it’s showing its potential.”
Along with Colledge, new tackles Braden Albert and Ja’Wuan James have been significant upgrades.
But there’s more adapting to be done, with Pro Bowl center Mike Pouncey expected to return from offseason hip surgery for next Sunday’s game against Green Bay.
The ground game has been stout despite the absence of Pouncey and an injury to newcomer Knowshon Moreno early in Week 2. Moreno rushed for 134 yards in a season-opening win over New England, then was sidelined by an elbow injury.
Replacement Lamar Miller rushed for a career-high 108 yards against Kansas City, and he ranks second among all NFL running backs with an average of 5.7 yards per carry. Moreno, who is expected to return sometime this month, ranks third at 5.5.
Wallace has been even better, with a 6.0 average on two end-arounds.
Tannehill said the Dolphins’ talented receiving group, beginning with the speedy Wallace, has helped the ground game. Last week Tannehill shook a slump by completing passes to nine receivers, which nicely complemented Miami’s 157 yards rushing.
“We have playmakers all over the field,” Tannehill said. “It makes the defense have to cover the entire field, makes them have to play a little slower because they’re not sure where we’re going with the ball, how we’re working our run game, whatever it may be. When you’re able to utilize the talent you have, it definitely slows down the defense.”
While the passing attack has produced few big gains, the ground game has become more potent, with the line getting so much push the running back’s first contact is sometimes with a linebacker or safety.
Miller ranks second in the league with four rushes of at least 20 yards, and the Dolphins are tied for second in the league with 17 runs of at least 10 yards.
“With this scheme, that’s what you’re hoping for,” Colledge said.
Miller looks like a different player in his third NFL season. Last year he scored two touchdowns, the lowest total for a player leading the Dolphins in rushing since 1980.
He had two touchdowns last week alone.
“I’ve been trying to be more physical and break tackles and be more decisive,” Miller said. “I think I’ve been doing a good job of that.”
Even with Moreno sidelined, Lazor has other potential weapons, including former 49ers second-round draft pick LaMichael James, who was signed this week to the practice squad. That makes six running backs on the roster — not counting Wallace.
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