Dolphins running back job a 'supreme competition,' coach says

Miami Dolphins veteran Raheem Mostert tied for the league-lead in touchdowns last season. File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla., June 5 (UPI) -- Miami Dolphins running backs surprised critics last season by helping the franchise rank inside the Top 10 for rushing yards for the first time since 2016. Coaches say a "supreme competition" could boost 2024 production.

"We have a lot of skillsets where their ability to affect the game is multiple," Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel said Wednesday at mandatory minicamp in Miami Gardens, Fla. "So we've been getting a lot of guys different work within the offense at different places just to kind of expand their game.

"I have literally spent zero time trying to forecast that room because I recognize supreme competition when I see it."

Tenth-year ball-carrier Raheem Mostert is said to "lead" the room, but that verb is more tied to his ability to mentor his teammates -- in addition to his football skills. Mostert, 32, tied Christian McCaffrey for the league-lead in touchdowns (32) last season. He also supplied a team-best and career-high 1,187 yards from scrimmage in 15 starts.

Like last year, he enters the off-season with blazing, young teammates on his heels, battling for a bigger split of the workload. Second-year running back De'Von Achane, who ranks as one of the fastest players in the league, struggled to stay on the field because of knee issues last season. This year, coaches say he bulked up and appears back to pre-injury form.

Coaches consider Raheem Mostert (R) a "leader" in the Miami Dolphins running backs room. File Photo by Thom Baur/UPI
Coaches consider Raheem Mostert (R) a "leader" in the Miami Dolphins running backs room. File Photo by Thom Baur/UPI

"I think he's done a good job," Dolphins running backs coach Eric Studesville said of Achane. "He put on a little bit of size. I don't know if it's weight-wise, but he's put on a little bit of size, which hopefully will make him more durable."

Achane, a third-round pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, erupted onto the scene during his rookie campaign. He received just two touches in his first career appearances but totaled more than 500 yards from scrimmage and scored seven touchdowns over his next three. He ended the season averaging 7.8 yards per carry. He totaled 11 touchdowns and nearly 1,000 yards from scrimmage.

Miami Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel (C) said the team's running backs are involved in a "supreme competition." File Photo by David Tulis/UPI
Miami Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel (C) said the team's running backs are involved in a "supreme competition." File Photo by David Tulis/UPI

In addition to Achane and Mostert, one of the most electrifying backfield duos in 2023, the Dolphins also went out and selected Jaylen Wright in the fourth round of the 2024 NFL Draft. Wright ranked second in the nation last season among college football running backs in yards per carry (7.4). He also ranked second among running backs in the 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine (4.38 seconds).

Jeff Wilson Jr., Salvon Ahmed and Chris Brooks are the other running backs on the Dolphins roster. The group is expected to be trimmed in August, when NFL teams must release players to comply with roster limits.

Despite the obvious fact that stellar performances from teammates could lessen his opportunities, Mostert continues to provide assistance to his younger teammates. McDaniel said having a "strong relationship with teammates within the position group is a non-negotiable" for the Dolphins running backs.

"The running back room is full of some of the most selfish people because they are inherently there because they all want to be the guy that has the ball," Studesville said. "In reality, there's only one ball on every play, not everybody can get it.

"So to take a group of individuals that inherently have those feelings inside of them, and to be so unselfish in a group to help the person sitting next to you to want the team to be better, I think speaks volumes for the quality of people we have in that room."

Studesville declined to say if the Dolphins' approach to the backfield split could evolve into one player receiving an extremely large portion of the work -- or will remain a more balanced split. Dolphins coaches plan to use training camp and practices to further evaluate the group, including an analysis of their ability block, catch passes and run routes.

"I think we try to put a carrot out as far as we can and I don't know that we're ever going to reach it," Studesville said of the group's potential. "The expectation is that we want to keep pushing them forward.

"I don't know what this group can do. I think last year, obviously Raheem had a great year and De'Von, [despite] missing five games, still had a good year and other people contributed in that. I just think there's still more out there. I don't know how much more, but we're gonna keep pushing the envelope."

McDaniel, Studesville, offensive coordinator Frank Smith and other coaches helped the Dolphins lead the NFL in total yards in 2023. That smoldering unit cooled -- literally -- in January during a playoff loss to the Kansas City Chiefs amid frigid temperatures. The Dolphins logged 76 rushing yards in the loss. Smith said a consistent running game often translates to better postseason success.

The offensive coordinator, who will help deploy an arsenal of playmakers that also includes reigning passing yardage champion Tua Tagovailoa and receiving yards leader Tyreek Hill, also said the Dolphins will prioritize a Super Bowl run over personal statistical benchmarks.

"Statistics can be great, but our ultimate goal is to win a championship," Smith said. "How do we do that? To make sure we have efficiency in what we're doing and we're scoring points. However, statistically that yields, great, but ultimately our job is to make sure we gain yards and score points so that we can win the game and win a championship."