By BARRY JACKSONbjackson@MiamiHerald.com
As the Dolphins running game flounders (Miami is 24th in per-carry average), some offseason changes at running back appear inevitable, as well as on the offensive line. What Miami will decide over the next three months is which of the four backs -- all impending free agents -- will be invited back. Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams will be unrestricted; Patrick Cobbs will be unrestricted or restricted (depending on the new labor deal); and Lex Hilliard will be restricted.
As CBS' Dan Dierdorf said off air, Miami could use ``a breakaway guy who can make three or four guys miss. Neither Ricky nor Ronnie is that guy.''
Although the Dolphins gave extensions to Davone Bess, Anthony Fasano and others, Brown said Friday that Miami hasn't initiated contract talks or given him or his agent any idea if he will be asked back. ``I'm slightly curious,'' he said. ``It's my future. I would love to be here, but I can't get emotionally attached where I don't make the best decision for me.''
Although he has stayed healthy this year, what hurts Brown's bargaining power is the fact he's averaging career lows in rushing yards per game (45.4, down from 64.8 in his career) and average per carry (3.9, down from 4.3). But remember, he is getting only 11.6 carries per game, down from 14.9 in his career and 16.3 in 2009.
Brown, who alternates series with Williams, hasn't complained about the decreased workload -- ``I don't want to overstep my boundaries'' -- but told us: ``It's hard to get in a groove. You get a carry here and there, but they're spread out. You never get a chance to catch a rhythm as much. I was pressing early in the season, trying to make each play like a home-run play, so I missed a couple runs.''
A telling stat: Brown is averaging 2.1 yards per rush after initial contact -- among the worst for NFL starting running backs.
Williams (4.4 average) has made a case for another year, but no new deal is imminent. If Miami replaces Brown and/or Williams, who's available?
Alabama junior Mark Ingram is the only running back that Mel Kiper Jr. ranks among his top 25 prospects. Kiper's top three senior running backs: Oklahoma's DeMarco Murray, Kansas State's Daniel Thomas and Oklahoma State's Kendall Hunter. After Ingram, Kiper's top two juniors are Oregon's LaMichael James and Virginia Tech's Ryan Williams, who can break long runs, as UM fans saw.
Cedric Benson and Darren Sproles will be among unrestricted free agents; DeAngelo Williams, Ahmad Bradshaw, Joseph Addai and Jerome Harrison will be restricted or unrestricted. One Dolphins player (not Brown) said Miami has lost its identity by not running as much or as well, whether the team admits it or not.
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