Is Ballage Bound for a Bounce-Back Year?
Kalen Ballage has become somewhat of an afterthought in the Dolphins running game, which is what happens after the kind of season he had in 2019.
The talk now is about the newcomers, Jordan Howard and Matt Breida, with a little bit of 2019 rookies Patrick Laird and Myles Gaskin mixed in.
But Ballage? Not so much.
Again, it's easy to understand after what happened to Ballage last season when he struggled mightily, although shoddy offensive line play certainly did no Dolphins running backs any favors.
The question now is whether Ballage can bounce back behind what the Dolphins hope — pray? — will be improved blocking up front and what kind of role, if any, he can carve for himself in 2020.
The assumption has been since the end of the draft — and the acquisition of Breida via trade from San Francisco — that the newcomers will share the bulk of the running back duties, though assistant coach Eric Studesville insists nothing is set in stone.
His words are worth mentioning, although with the disclaimer that any position coach at this time of year would say that no jobs have been won or handed out.
“I don’t know that that’s what it is yet," Studesville said. "We haven’t determined that yet. We’ve still got to see how this thing plays out. If it is those two guys, then we’ll figure out whatever the best situation is for the team and what gives us the best chance to be successful on Sunday. It may be a combination of something else that isn’t out there yet. We don’t know. Right now, we’re getting them ready to get ready for their opportunity to prove what they can do, and then once we see what they can do, we’ll establish whatever that role is for them and see how this thing is going to contribute to our production and our success going forward.”
Studesville was asked specificially about Ballage, who averaged a paltry 1.8 yards per rushing attempt, which would have set an NFL record for futility had he had enough attempts to qualify statistically.
Ballage also was credited with only one broken tackle on 74 carries, the lowest total for any running back with at least 70 rushes. Additionally, Ballage was charged with four dropped passes on 24 targets; that 16.7 drop percentage was the fourth-worst in the NFL among players targeted 20 or more times last season.
Probably not surprisingly, Studesville chose to look ahead what he was asked what went wrong.
“Looking back on that, there are things we can look at and study in the offseason, but I’m going forward with Kalen," said Studesville, who arrived in 2018, the same year the Dolphins selected Ballage in the fourth round of the draft out of Arizona State. "Kalen is a smart guy, he’s passionate about this, he wants to be good, and I know he wants to improve from that performance and that’s what we’re focusing on going forward. He’s buying into what we’re doing, he’s giving great effort in meetings and on the field. We’ve just got to see how it plays out. I think we’ll take it as what he demonstrates he can do going forward.”
For his part, Ballage has kept a relatively low profile this offseason, though he has shown off his singing prowess on his Instagram account.
There also have been shots of him working out and he looks as muscular as he has since joining the Dolphins.
He has not, however, addressed the media since the end of last season, though it's likely he wouldn't necessarily be interesting in rehashing what happened last season.
Like his position coach, Ballage has to be all about moving forward.
He's got the combination of size and speed (4.46 at the 2018 combine) to make big plays out of the backfield, which he proved with his 75-yard touchdown run at Minnesota late in his rookie season.
The question is whether he can put it all together and put behind his forgettable 2019 season.
Alain Poupart has covered the Miami Dolphins on a full-time basis since 1989. You can follow him on Twitter at @apoupartFins.