DAVIE — The Dolphins are entering the home stretch of their offseason workouts, days away from R&R, but already, a common thread is emanating from the training facility that could have a major impact on what we see this fall.
Kenyan Drake will be the featured back, veteran Frank Gore is the No. 2 man and behind them is Kalen Ballage, a fourth-round pick out of Arizona State. No news flash there. But put your ear to the ground and you’ll recognize a theme developing that can be labeled this way:
Three backs, three downs.
More and more, Dolphins coaches have been pointing out that all three of these guys can run, catch and block. While it would be unrealistic to think the Dolphins will roll their backs the way they’ll roll defensive linemen, it’s a huge benefit to Adam Gase, who likes versatile backs, to know he won’t be tipping his hand by putting any particular back in on any given down.
“You really like a guy that can play on all three downs,” new offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said.
Assuming all three stay healthy, there can be no doubt Drake will get the majority of the carries, but do not assume that just because Gore is 35 and did little in OTAs, the equipment guys won’t need to wash his No. 21 jersey on Sunday evenings. Hardly. Gore ran for 961 yards before a talent-challenged offensive line in Indy last year, had 245 receiving yards and is two years removed from a 1,025-yard rushing season.
“Frank Gore set the standard of what backs do in (pass) protection,” coach Frank Reich said as the Colts were preparing to part ways with him. “I remember hearing stories when I’d be coaching for other teams that Frank Gore could run the protection meetings, that he could make the protection calls for the quarterback.”
A pretty valuable guy to have around if your QB has been on the shelf since the Obama administration, wouldn’t you say? The Colts somehow overlooked that, but don’t think the Dolphins will make the same mistake when it comes to keeping Ryan Tannehill healthy.
“He shall be missed,” tweeted one guy on the Colts who’s feeling the loss of Gore: QB Andrew Luck.
Ballage has room for growth in this department. All rookies do. At 6-feet-3 and 230 pounds, he’s the tallest and heaviest back on the team. So the tools are there.
“He’s a guy that shouldn’t have a lot of limitations,” Loggains said.
Ballage’s background backs that up. In addition to running back, he grew up playing quarterback, receiver, safety and linebacker.
“I did everything,” Ballage said. “I am a running back, but I consider myself a football player. I feel like I’m somebody that can do everything pretty well.”
He added, “I don’t think they would’ve picked me if I didn’t fit that mold” of an Adam Gase running back.
The Dolphins in recent seasons have wrestled with run-pass balance but should achieve it in 2018. Not all passing plays are created equal, though, because Gase can treat short tosses as extended handoffs, which is where this trio’s skillset also comes in.
Gore caught 29 passes for 245 yards last year and in his career has had as many as 485 receiving yards in a season. Drake caught 32 for 239 yards and two scores last year. In 2017, Ballage had odd totals of 20 catches for 91 yards, just a 4.6 average, but in 2016 he caught 44 passes for 469 and a 10.7 average.
“Drake is a guy that can play all three downs,” Loggains said. “I think Kalen fits that vision as well. He can catch the football. He can be a weapon out of the backfield, but he’s also big enough in pass pro. Where he needs to grow is the NFL game and nickel protections and learning that stuff, because that’s obviously the biggest transition in the NFL is going in there and you’ve got odd defenses and you’ve got spinners and floaters and trap blitzes and all of those things. He’s got to master that stuff.”
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