Lamar Miller breaking tackles, improving at pass protection

The story of Lamar Miller's improvement this season isn't told by the number of 20-yard runs the Dolphins' third-year running back has amassed.

His success is more subtle.

Look at the way the speedy Miller has been breaking tackles, running downhill. Look at his improvement as a receiver and in pass protection.

Miller, the starter since Knowshon Moreno went down with an elbow injury in Week 2, has always been able to peel off long runs. You see his improvement when you see the other things in his game.

"There were some areas that the coaches who were here in the past felt like Lamar needed to improve in the offseason," offensive coordinator Bill Lazor said, "and he's done everything that we've asked him to do.

"Probably all those opportunities haven't shown up yet, but, as they do, I think we're very confident that he's still an improving player and he's very willing to do what we ask him to do. So I have great hope for him."

Miller has an impressive 49 carries for 277 yards and two touchdowns for the season, including a career-best 108 yards rushing against Kansas City.

But here's where you get an appreciation for how Miller could be changing from a year ago: He's done a better job of keeping the offense ahead of the chains, so to speak.

Last week against Oakland, he had a 21-yard gain on second-and-1. He had a 4-yard gain on first-and-10. He had a 3-yard gain on second-and-5. Miller has done a better job of keeping the offense in manageable situations.

That wasn't the case a year ago, or even early this season. All too often Miller would have a few too many 2-yard gains on first-and-10, or 1-yard gains on second-and-6. And he didn't run with authority. He didn't break tackles or elude tacklers.

Against Kansas City and Oakland — he had 12 carries for a rugged 64 yards against the Raiders — Miller was aggressive.

"Going into these past two games I've just been trying to be more physical and break tackles, and try to get positive yards and be more decisive," he said.

Miller also seems to be progressing as an all-around back. In pass protection he shows better recognition (knowing who to block) and better still actually executing the block).

That means he can stay on the field on third downs.

There's still room to grow.

Miller lost a fumble in the end zone against Oakland. And he still has to work on making yards after his receptions.

But for the last two games he's showed he can be a reliable source of rushing yards for an offense that thrives on play-calling versatility.

The Dolphins are No. 6 in the NFL in rushing at 142.3 yards per game, and Miller is a big part of that. His newfound ability to break tackles allows him to get to the second-level, past the defensive line. And his newfound decisiveness allows him to use his speed better on outside runs.

"I think Lamar has done some good things," coach Joe Philbin said. "He's had an opportunity to get into the second level. We've gotten him on the perimeter on occasion, and he's taken advantage of those runs. We've had, for early in the season, a fair number of explosive runs. Those things, they all add up."

Miller will likely return to being the No. 2 back in a two-back system when Moreno is healthy.

For the foreseeable future, however, including the Oct. 12 game against Green Bay, Miller will be the Dolphins' main ball carrier.

"I think I've made some improvement from last year," Miller said, "but I still have a lot of room for improvement. This only my third year. I'm still trying to learn a lot."

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