Watch for running back LaMichael James to contribute as early as this week. After the big loss of left tackle, Branden Albert, the Miami Dolphins signed James from their practice squad. Previously drafted in the second round by the San Francisco 49ers, James got banged up and lost a numbers game in a loaded backfield.
Earlier this season, Knowshon Moreno went down for the year as well, Moreno returned to the Miami, where he played college ball, after career-high totals with the Denver Broncos. Denver was a little stubborn to move on from Moreno, who fit in perfectly as a do-it-all back, flanking Peyton Manning. They chose to roll with Montee Ball to save money, also first round investment. Moreno came to the Dolphins as the best back on the roster.
Lamar Miller began the year as the starter because Moreno was injured. Miller has done a solid job this season, especially in the passing game. Backed up by Daniel Thomas, the former second round pick was let go before hopping back on board after Moreno’s season-ending injury. Undrafted rookie, Damien Williams, has also been sprinkled in and is looking better than Thomas. However, none of these backs has really stood out. So, with Miller limited last week and questionable for Thursday Night Football against the rival Buffalo Bills, there’s a slight opening for James to get in on the action.
An indirect tie that James has for immediate playing time, is offensive coordinator Bill Lazor. Lazor coached the quarterbacks for the Philadelphia Eagles last season, which means he was on Chip Kelly’s staff. Kelly coached James at Oregon, where the running back was a dynamic playmaker for the elite college program. Lazor has installed elements of Kelly’s offense in Miami, which opens the door for passing down usage either this Thursday, or the following Sunday when they travel to Denver.
“I love the way he runs routes. I love the way that he can be decisive and hit the hole fast,” Lazor said. “Without having a chance to see a guy run in preseason for you, a little bit of it is projection from what you see in practice.”
Miller hasn’t looked like a guy that could play through documented injuries, and he isn’t head and shoulders better than James, in my opinion. He is better than Thomas and Williams, but he was nowhere near the package that Moreno brought to the offense. At 5-4 the Dolphins are a couple games behind the New England Patriots in the AFC East, tied with the Bills, whom they play Thursday. The AFC Wildcard picture is cluttered as usual around the midway point in the season. Miami lost a tough game against a closely-matched team in the Detroit Lions.
They have to bounce back on a short weak and Miller can’t really practice much. James probably won’t be a big part of the gameplan, as this will be his first time suiting up on gameday in 2014.This is a player that will hurt defenses in space, which includes returning for the special teams unit. James can bring that explosive element that rookie receiver, Jarvis Landry, has added to the return game and opposite of Mike Wallace. Landry worked his way up from sharing slot duties with Brandon Gibson, to making more of an impact than than starter Brian Hartline. Look, they pulled James up because they lack talent and depth in the backfield, and he is familiar with the offense. If not this week, I expect James in the weeks ahead to work his way into a timeshare role, leap-frogging Thomas and Williams for change-of-pace duties, at the very least. Best-case scenario, they found a steal that was expendable in San Francisco, who could be a key player for their playoff chances the rest of the way.