Three-time Pro Bowl fullback Vonta Leach met with Dolphins officials Wednesday, a day after Miami picked up Evan Rodriguez, a talented but troubled former Chicago Bears fullback and tight end.
The Dolphins could be looking to upgrade over Jorvorskie Lane, a feel-good story last year as a 25-year-old rookie who lost more than 30 pounds to make the roster after playing two years of indoor football.
Pro Football Focus ranked Lane 17th in the NFL last year among starting fullbacks, and he ranked last in rushing. Lane rushed 13 times for 13 yards and two touchdowns as the Dolphins struggled to convert on short-yardage attempts in the red zone. He was 12th in receiving for fullbacks with 11 catches for 79 yards and a touchdown.
The rankings included 25 players because not all teams used a fullback last season.
Leach, 31, was easily ranked as the NFL’s top fullback and was a dominant lead blocker for Baltimore running back Ray Rice. Miami heads into the season with unproven running backs in Lamar Miller, Daniel Thomas and rookie Mike Gillislee after not resigning Reggie Bush.
Leach was sixth in rushing for fullbacks with 32 yards and a TD and fifth in receiving with 21 receptions for 143 yards. The Ravens, unable to restructure Leach’s contract, released him Tuesday.
Leach played for Green Bay from 2004-06, when Dolphins coach Joe Philbin was an offensive assistant for the Packers.
After Wednesday’s mini-camp practice, Philbin said he remembers two things about Leach: his toughness and his bad sense of direction.
“I remember on his first day, I had to point him to the practice field and give him a ride to the practice field,” Philbin said. “That’s a true story. Lost, totally lost.”
But Philbin said he remembers something about Leach’s game.
“Tough guy,” Philbin said. “That’s what I remember the most.”
Rodriguez, who was ranked by Pro Football Focus as the NFL’s 15th-best fullback, started five games for Chicago last year as a rookie. He was used primarily as a blocker and didn’t have a rushing attempt. He had four catches for 21 yards.
His brief time with the Bears, however, was marred by legal issues.
Rodriguez was ticketed May 31 for DUI, speeding and improper lane usage in Chicago, and he was also charged in March with disorderly intoxication and resisting an officer in Miami. Those charges were eventually dropped.
“That stuff is in the past, and it’s a lesson learned,” Rodriguez said Wednesday after his first practice with the Dolphins. “This is a new opportunity to prove myself.”
Philbin said the Dolphins considered Rodriguez’s legal troubles before they claimed him off waivers. The Bears cut him Monday.
“We expect guys to represent the organization the right way on and off the field,” Philbin said. “That will be a requirement for him.”
The Bears used Rodriguez in a hybrid role as a blocker out of the backfield and as a tight end, skills that could translate well to the Dolphins’ offense.
Philbin said he liked Rodriguez coming out of Temple. He was a fourth-round pick in last year’s draft.
“I thought he was a good player coming out of college,” Philbin said. “As a young, developing player, we’ll see and we’ll get a feel for what he can do.”
Lane, however, isn’t ready to give up his starting position.
“Everybody is here to compete and the best man wins,” he said.
Noteworthy: The Dolphins signed Brandon Gibson, a former St. Louis Ram, in March to replace Davone Bess as the team’s primary slot receiver, but Armon Binns also has been impressing coaches in the slot during offseason practices.
Binns, 6-feet-3 and 210 pounds, was signed late last year as an injury replacement and had six catches for 67 yards in three games.
Binns scored two TDs in Wednesday’s no-pads practice.
“He is playing fast, and he is catching it when he gets an opportunity,” Philbin said.