Why Dolphins' Kenyan Drake-Frank Gore backfield is here to stay

DAVIE, Fla. -- Hopes for Kenyan Drake to become the Miami Dolphins' three-down, lead back were premature. Drake and Frank Gore will have a split role for the foreseeable future, as coach Adam Gase has made clear in recent weeks.

Fantasy football owners groan. But the Dolphins believe it's the best way to success.

“We both work good off each other," said Gore, the NFL's fourth all-time leading rusher and the Dolphins' 2018 rushing leader with 202 yards. "We’re both different [and have] a different running style. He can do everything in the passing game. I can also do things in the passing game, but I think it’s a good mix. As long as we’re in and the game is going right, I think Coach Gase will get us opportunities.”

Drake has repeated that he just wants to win. He has shared a backfield in every year of his football career since high school. He might be frustrated with the situation, but he hasn't shown a lot of it publicly.

Here's the Dolphins' reasoning: Gase loves Gore's consistency and ability to keep the offense on schedule. He values Drake's big-play ability, but his propensity for negative yardage is preventing him from becoming their three-down back.

Headed into last Sunday's game vs. the Bengals, 36.4 percent of Drake's carries went for zero or negative yards. Gase believed those dead plays were hindering an offense that was already struggling because of injuries. As a result, Gore had 12 carries and Drake had just six in Cincinnati.

Drake was used primarily as a receiving back and a complementary rusher, even though he received a larger share of the snaps (64 percent to Gore's 41 percent). Those percentages are right along with the backs' season averages. Drake had seven catches and finished with a season-high 115 total yards and a touchdown.

That's going to be that plan going forward, with Gore getting equal or more rushes, while Drake will take on the receiving role.

"Frank does a really good job of we’re second-and-5, third-and-2, now we get a first down to where it’s first down, second down, first down. I think Kenyan is coming along in that area," Gase said. "It’s just [Drake] does give you that element of first-and-10, 60-yard touchdown or 40-yard touchdown to where now it’s a game-changing play. That’s experience. I think the more he does it and the more he kind of understands the big picture, which I think it’s coming together for him -- just watching him practice and the way he’s preparing -- I think we’re just going to keep seeing a better player every week.”

One example of Drake's value was shown last Sunday on a third-and-16, when he decleated Bengals defensive end Carl Lawson with a chip block, quickly caught a screen pass, made three guys miss and got a first down. It was one of the most explosive plays of the game.

"That's what he does. He has heart. He's willing to stick his neck out there and block anyone," receiver Kenny Stills said. "He's one of our best playmakers."

Gase loved it too, calling it "one of the best plays he's ever seen." But the Dolphins want him to have a better balance of the big play and taking the easy yards. They believe that's the next step for him.

Gore has seen a fairly consistent split of touches per week. Drake's has fluctuated.

"There’s been some times where he’s trying to make a big play because he knows he has the ability to," Gase said of Drake. "When it doesn’t work, that’s when you get a negative play. ... He did a really good job last week, I thought, as far as helping us stay on track. There were a couple of times where he tried to bounce it or do something that really wasn’t designed for the play and we got zero yards or minus-1. But I think he did a good job of really cutting those back last week to where there was a lot of positive coming out of his touches, especially at running back."

Look for Drake to make his biggest impact as a receiving back getting 13 to 17 touches per game while Gore primarily earns touches as a rusher.