Dolphins expect influx of new faces, led by Chase Edmonds, to boost run game

Chase Edmonds, who signed a two-year contract worth $12.6 million in March, is one of three free agents Miami added this offseason who have been starting running backs in the NFL. AP Photo/Lynne Sladky

MIAMI -- The Miami Dolphins' defense dominated the majority of the mandatory minicamp practices open to media last week, save a few splash plays on offense. But even those glimpses of brilliance, including big plays by running backs Chase Edmonds and ZaQuandre White, had to be taken with a grain of salt by those involved.

With both sides of the ball donning helmets but no shoulder pads, Edmonds wasn't ready to celebrate.

"No, it doesn't count with no pads. That's my opinion," he laughed. "You separate the men from the boys once the pads get on. I think it's important for us to get the scheme down, get the plays down, and most importantly take care of each other ... getting good solid work."

These splash plays from the Dolphins' backfield might not count, but their presence is welcome after Miami finished 30th in the NFL in rushing yards last season (92.2 yards per game). The Dolphins also ranked 26th in yards after contact (1.55 yards per rush) and 31st in rushes of 10-plus yards (34).

The team attacked the issue with an influx of new faces this offseason. During the first week of free agency, it signed Edmonds and former San Francisco 49ers running back Raheem Mostert.

Last month, the Dolphins added more competition to their running backs room, signing former Patriots and Rams starter Sony Michel. Including incumbent starter Myles Gaskin, they now have four players who have been No. 1 options at some point in their NFL careers.

"Iron sharpens iron. I know these guys' skill sets," Michel said. "They are all great running backs. ... I think it benefits this team that we all compete our best and eventually we'll be our best. The opportunities will come, you've just got to take advantage of them."

Head coach Mike McDaniel has made clear how much he values the running back position -- both with his words and his résumé.

He coordinated the running game the past five seasons with the 49ers (he added the title of offensive coordinator last season), and over that span five players registered 200 or more carries. In four of those seasons, at least two rushers logged 200 carries.

Barring injuries, Miami's improved depth should create a fierce competition to make the final 53-man roster. However, there will be options for multiple players to make an impact in 2022.

"You've got to realize running backs, collectively ... you have about 300 to 400-some touches by that position," McDaniel said at the NFL combine this offseason. "So it's incredibly valuable ... for the Miami Dolphins moving forward, it's of paramount importance."

If Miami has fixed its run game, it will be the result of a three-part effort. The first came when the team hired McDaniel, an offensive-minded, run-focused coach who favors a zone-blocking system. Then it added Edmonds (averaged 5.1 yards on 116 carries last season), Mostert (772 rushing yards, 10 TDs in 2019), and Michel (3,137 rushing yards, 20 TDs in four seasons).

The third part was improving its offensive line, which it did by signing left tackle Terron Armstead (five-year contract worth $87.5 million with $43.37 million guaranteed) and guard Connor Williams (two-year deal worth $14 million with $7.5 million guaranteed) in March.

Armstead, the crown jewel of the retooled line, has yet to practice as he recovers from offseason knee surgery. However, he has a different take than Edmonds regarding Miami's big running plays during workouts.

"I disagree [with Edmonds] because it's harder to run the ball [without pads]," he said. "Defense can shed a lot easier without the pads on, so if you get an explosive run -- it's not real football, don't get me wrong -- but lanes, like if you are creating lanes, that carries over."

McDaniel is counting on it as he tries to revive an attack that finished 25th overall and 22nd in scoring last season.