Former Michigan RB De’Veon Smith ready for NFL debut with Dolphins

Michigan running back De’Veon Smith is likely to dress for his first NFL game this weekend. (AP)

DAVIE—If De’Veon Smith makes his NFL debut for the Dolphins on Sunday, it’ll be the culmination of more than six months’ worth of work to reach this moment.

He’s spent the season on Miami’s practice squad, impersonating different opposing running backs for the scout team, and now is in line to get his first crack at real action thanks to the team’s ultra-thin depth at the position.

With starter Damien Williams expected to be out against Denver because of a shoulder injury and third-stringer Senorise Perry in the concussion protocol, Kenyan Drake and Smith are the only available running backs on the roster. Drake should get an overwhelming percentage of the carries Sunday, but it looks likely Smith will be in the mix as well.

“I’m around a great group of guys that are real caring and I feel like we’re a brotherhood in our running back room,” said Smith, who was signed to the active roster just before Wednesday’s practice. “I’m happy to be part here and taking advantage of my opportunity now.”

Smith went undrafted out of Michigan this year despite averaging 4.7 yards per carry as a senior. In his last two seasons with the Wolverines, he totaled 1,599 yards and 16 touchdowns in 25 games. He also caught 35 passes for 225 yards and a touchdown.

The Dolphins signed him immediately after the draft, and he kept himself on the team until the final cut of the preseason. He also worked through a hamstring injury during the offseason to keep himself in position to make the team.

Miami signed him to its practice squad and added him to the roster two weeks ago when a spot opened in the wake of Rey Maualuga’s dismissal, but he did not dress for the Tampa Bay game and returned to the practice squad a few days later.

“Practice squad sucks,” Smith said with a laugh. “Going against that great defense is pretty fun. It gets you better. I got a little bit better and worked on some things, so overall it’s been fun for me.”

Smith would certainly get work on special teams if he dresses for the game, though it’s not clear which units. He’s had enough experience there and at running back in practices that his team is confident he’ll hold his own.
“When he’s given his chance, he’s gonna step up and relish his opportunity to get some playing time, whether it’s at running back or special teams,” Drake said. “Everybody has the utmost trust in him to go out there and get his job done.”

Unless Perry is cleared from his concussion by Sunday, the Dolphins face the possibility of dressing just two running backs against Denver. If that’s the case, coach Adam Gase said he has other offensive players who are capable of playing the position as a contingency, but he declined to name names.

The Dolphins are 29th in the NFL in rushing at 79.2 yards per game. Since trading Jay Ajayi in October, they have averaged 127.8 all-purpose yards from Williams and Drake combined.

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