The Miami Dolphins running backs were simply trying to get a handle on the playbook last season. Adding further complication to consistently gaining positive yardage on the ground, the Dolphins placed their focus on becoming an outside zone team.
The problem with their commitment to running outside zone was that the defense they faced every day during practice frustrated the offense in large part because it was perfectly set up to defend outside zone or stretch plays by sheer alignment. The Dolphins wide-9 defense places defensive ends outside of the tight end in a 9-technique and funnels running backs inside for modest gains.
Essentially the Dolphins’ offense was hitting their head against a brick wall on a daily basis in practices but by midseason, they were able to execute on game day more often than not.
Jay Ajayi had a break-out season in 2016 rushing for 1,272 yards and eight touchdowns. Outside zone remained a staple of the Dolphins’ running game but they occasionally opted to run power with either Mike Pouncey or Laremy Tunsil pulling to clear the way for the running back.
Now that the Dolphins have had ample time to perfect their execution with the zone blocking scheme, it is very possible that they’ll implement more power run schemes into their rushing attack.
“I think the longer we keep working together, it gives us more flexibility in the things that we can do,” coach Gase said. “It’s hard to go away from something that we did so well last year, but when teams start over-playing certain concepts in the run game, you’ve got to have some options to go and you’ve got to work on them. That’s really kind of where we’re at right now.
“We’ve got a lot in and we’re trying to work on a couple different things, but at the same time, we’re still trying to stay with our bread and butter and make sure that everybody’s kind of on the same page. And it’s always, for Jay [Ajayi] especially, he likes to feel kind of how they’re setting up their blocks and how it’s going to feel for him when we get to real games.”
Right guard Jermon Bushrod also believes that it’s important for the Dolphins to mix up their rushing attack while executing at a high level.
“We need to have potential to have success at whatever is called. …We can run outside zone, inside zone, power – if we can be good at different styles in the running game, it just opens everything up; it even opens up the passing game. It doesn’t matter. We’re not bogged down to being an outside zone team or an inside zone team, power team, man team – you have to be able to do it all.”