Dolphins' Brown ready to bring more power to running game
By JASON LIESER
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 05, 2007
DAVIE — This could be the Year of Ronnie Brown.
Brown said he enters every season with that mindset. But this season, with Cam Cameron's innovation, there's more reason to believe.
"The emphasis on running the ball is a little bit stronger in this offense than what we had last year," Brown said. "I'm excited because I've got a lot more to offer."
Quarterback Trent Green, who has spent most of his 14-year career in an offense similar to Cameron's, gave Brown a history lesson about the diverse group of backs who have flourished in this system.
"You're talking about Hall of Famers through the roof," Green said. "There's a track record of success in this offense, whether you're a receiving running back or a power running back."
Green cited versatile backs such as LaDainian Tomlinson and Marshall Faulk as well as others who have flourished in the same type of running game but with different styles: Priest Holmes, Larry Johnson, Emmitt Smith, Eric Dickerson and John Riggins.
"You can do so many things with it," Green said of the system, although he didn't offer more than a broad outline of it. "There's multiple shifts, formations, movements, protections - it's a high-volume offense."
In training camp, there is widespread optimism about Brown's role, but specifics are scarce and Cameron remains tight-lipped about his plans, saying he still is evaluating his pieces.
Neither Cameron nor Green is about to open the playbook and divulge any secrets.
But Drew Brees will.
Tomlinson and Brees joined the Chargers together when they were drafted fifth and 32nd, respectively, in 2001. Cameron was named San Diego's offensive coordinator the following year.
Just two years removed from playing for Cameron - and 900 miles away at New Orleans Saints camp in Jackson, Miss. - Brees has some answers.
"Obviously LaDainian's a special guy, but Cam designed some great schemes," he said. "He was so creative with changing the formation of running plays in San Diego to create the best possible leverage. Cam will take a big, physical back like Ronnie Brown and get him into situations where he only has to make one guy miss.
"In San Diego, defenses knew what play he was going to run. Everybody knew when they were going to use 40-50 Power, but they couldn't stop it. The wide receivers and the offensive line knew how to block everything the defense could throw at them."
Brees explained that 40-50 Power - which Brown said is termed 20-30 Power in the Dolphins' playbook - is Cameron's favorite call. It's a gap-scheme, off-tackle run in which the back-side guard pulls and the runner has as many as three holes. Precise blocking from the tight ends and receivers is critical.
When the play was mentioned this week, Cameron froze ever-so-slightly, mimicking the countless linebackers who have failed to stop 40-50 Power.
Then he laughed.
"I think the most times we've called it in a row is 18," he said, beaming. "The tailback has a three-way cut: he can cut the back door, he can go straight ahead or he can bounce it. The really good backs have the vision to attack the entire formation with that play. That's why we like it."
Brown loves running the play in practice, even when Miami's defense knows the call.
"It's a power play, downhill," Brown said, rubbing his hands together. "They can know the play, but if everyone handles their job and executes it, then you've got an opportunity. That's one of those plays where you can hit them in a few different places depending on how everything works out."
If Brown avoids injuries - like the broken hand that cost him three games last season - he has a very good chance to top last year's total of 1,008 rushing yards.
At 6 feet and 232 pounds, Brown was the third-heaviest starting running back in the league last season. He may have come to camp heavier, but already is back to 232. He has shown his durability by taking a multitude of reps in the scorching heat.
But one of the key elements of Cameron's success in San Diego was using Tomlinson in the passing game, an area in which Brown has had little impact thus far. He caught just 25 passes as a senior at Auburn, and has averaged 2.3 receptions per game in two NFL seasons.
"I've been surprised these first few days how good of a receiver he is," Green said. "What Ronnie's comfort zone is going to be and how Cam chooses to utilize him remains to be seen, but his receiving skills have impressed me the most."
By improving as a receiver, Brown would give defenses more to worry about and might help create more running room. Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young, an analyst for ESPN, said versatility was central to Tomlinson's ground production.
"You knew LaDainian Tomlinson was in the backfield, but didn't know what he'd do," Young said. "Play-faking to LaDainian, handing it to LaDainian and sending him out to catch passes all demanded respect. Cam used them intertwined to give LaDainian more running room, and Ronnie Brown's going to find that out quickly."
His hand injury, inconsistency on the offensive line (which could be an issue again this season) and poor quarterback play limited Brown's receptions last year. Of the 22 running backs who ran for more than 1,000 yards last season, only nine had fewer catches than Brown's 33.
"There's a lot more emphasis on getting the running back involved in the passing game than there was last year," he said.
Since he was drafted No. 2 overall in 2005, Brown has been neither stud nor dud.
"I've got a lot more to prove on this level," Brown admitted. "That's one of the things that keeps you motivated. I still have a long way to go and a lot to learn."
Given Cameron's history - San Diego averaged 504 rushes per season over the last three years, fifth in the NFL - this should be Brown's best chance to showcase his ability.
"You want to find out how good you can be? You're about to," Young said. "Great systems bring out great qualities in good players. I think everyone believes Ronnie Brown is a dynamic back and this is the system to bring that out of him.
Cameron said there is "no magic" to his system.
"It takes a lot of effort on their part: running, staying in shape, being able to catch the football," he said of his running backs. "However, we've been able to get guys to believe that if they do the things I just talked about, they're going to be successful. After that, you get guys to block for them and let them do their thing."
The Dolphins have missed the playoffs each of the past five seasons, but the years they came closest to the post-season were the ones in which they ran the ball most frequently.
Year W-L Atts. Rank Pct. runs Yards
'06 6-10 402 29th 40.5 1,673
'05 9-7 444 17th 44.4 1,898
'04 4-12 384 29th 39.6 1,339
'03 10-6 487 8th 52.0 1,817
'02 9-7 530 1st 53.8 2,502
Other Top Choices
Many people have criticized Ronnie Brown as unworthy of a No. 2 selection, though his draft class was one of the weakest of this decade. Here's a look at how he ranks in the context of the first running backs chosen over the past six drafts.
2001: LaDainian Tomlinson (5th overall) - Arrived in full force,
rushing for 24 touchdowns and nearly 3,000 yards in first two seasons.
2002: William Green (16th) - Oft-injured back missed nine games in '03 and had just 20 carries last year.
2003: Willis McGahee (23rd) - Returned from brutal knee injury to rush for 2,375 yards and 18 touchdowns in first two years.
2004: Steven Jackson (24th) - Averaged 5 yards per carry as a rookie and made the Pro Bowl with 2,334 total yards in '06.
2005: Ronnie Brown (2nd) - Shared backfield with Ricky Williams and ran for 907 yards as a rookie; topped 1,000 yards last year despite missing three games.
2006: Reggie Bush (2nd) - Hybrid back totaled 1,307 multi-purpose yards and helped the Saints go from 3-13 to the NFC Championship game.
source: http://www.palmbeachpost.com/dolphins/c ... _0805.html