1 Fort Lauderdale
Local Search & News & Reviews
“I know a lot about running backs,” is the way he put it.
The assembled media at the Baptist Health Training Facility at Nova Southeastern University on the opening day of the rookie minicamp then decided to test Ballage’s knowledge on the history of Dolphins running backs.
“Ronnie Brown is one of my favorite running backs,” Ballage said. “You guys probably know him. I just liked that way he played. He was somebody that was exciting for me to watch. I also know older guys. Larry Csonka, he was a cool guy to watch as well. Just watching some of his stuff on ‘A Football Life’ and things like that, it’s cool to watch.”
It’s interesting that Ballage, the second of two Dolphins fourth-round picks in the 2018 NFL draft, would mention Brown because there are an awful lot of similarities between the two.
The most obvious one has to do with the Wildcat formation, which Brown introduced to the NFL on that glorious September afternoon in New England in 2008 and which Ballage used extensively when he tied the FBS record with eight touchdowns in a 2016 game against Texas Tech.
Along with a 39-yard reception off a flea-flicker and a 75-yard run off a straight handoff in the fourth quarter, Ballage scored six touchdowns that day after taking a direct snap.
Brown and Ballage also are both bigger backs with rare speed for their size. Ballage tied for the third-fastest 40-yard dash among running backs at the 2018 scouting combine with a time of 4.46 — exactly the same time Brown posted at the combine in 2005.
The two also arrived in the NFL with the thought their best football was ahead of them after they shared backfield duties in college. And, of course, both were drafted by the Dolphins.
“Growing up, I just liked him,” Ballage said. “As you’re growing up, the teams that catch your eye are the Miami Dolphins and the Oregon Ducks and the nice colors and stuff like that. I just like the way he played. He was somebody that I liked to watch when I was younger.”
Like Brown, Ballage had only five games as a college senior where he had at least 15 rushing attempts. As he pointed out to South Florida reporters, on the night he had his eight touchdowns, seven of which came on the ground, he carried the ball only 13 times while teammate Demario Richard had 30 carries.
This lack of opportunities is why Ballage believes the best is yet to come for him.
“Absolutely,” he said without hesitation. “But I’m a Miami Dolphin now. These coaches are extremely smart and know exactly what they’re doing and they’re going to be able to put me in position to make a lot of plays.
“I feel like I’m definitely somebody that needs to grow as a player in general. I feel like everybody needs to grow at some point. Tom Brady probably has a bunch of things that he needs to work on and get better at. I think that’a part of being a competitor and taking the next step and being a good football player.”
Ballage certainly has all the physical gifts to become an elite running back, starting with that 4.46 speed at 6 feet 3, 229 pounds.
In addition, Ballage can help as a receiver out of the backfield and as a kickoff returner, something he did the past two seasons at Arizona State.
“When he walks through the door, that’s what they’re supposed to look like,” offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said. “He’s big, he’s put together and he’s a really smart kid. We’re excited about trying to tap him out and make sure his head is hitting the ceiling. He’s got size, he’s got height, weight, speed. Doing those things, we’ve got to figure out what he does well and find out quickly with that stuff because he does have good hands. He can move around and do different things. He’s got the size to sit in there on third down and be in pass protection that way.
“He’s a guy that shouldn’t have a lot of limitations; we’ve got to figure out those quick and we’ll put him in spots to be successful.”
Ballage will add depth to a Dolphins running back corps headed by Gore and third-year back Kenyan Drake, who blossomed in 2017 and led the NFL in rushing yards over the final five weeks.
Gore, the former University of Miami star who returns to Miami as the fourth-leading rusher in NFL history, should serve as a great mentor for both Drake and Ballage.
“It’s super exciting,” Ballage said. “I know a lot about running backs. I know he’s like fourth all-time on the rushing list. That’s just somebody that I look up to. A lot of people don’t see Frank as the flashy running back or anything like that, but he’s consistent every year. He rushes for 1,000 yards and I think that’s definitely somebody that I can learn from.”
If things work out and Ballage can apply some of the lessons he’ll no doubt get from Gore, who knows, maybe he can write a little Dolphins history of his own.