Dolphins' Jeff Wilson giving team 'Wilson-itis' with physical run style

MIAMI -- Their careers have taken them to South Florida, but Miami Dolphins running backs Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson Jr. forged their camaraderie in 2018, at a Black Bear Diner roughly 10 minutes away from the San Francisco 49ers' Levi Stadium.

Mostert, who had spent the previous two seasons with the 49ers after entering the league as an undrafted free agent in 2015, offered to take Wilson to breakfast shortly after the latter signed with the team -- also as an undrafted free agent.

It was a gesture that has stuck with Wilson ever since.

“He sat down and explained everything to me, and talked to me and told me what to expect, how to work,” Wilson said. “So before I even played a down, before I even knew who he was, before he even really knew who I was -- he took me out to eat, brought me in, just gave me that big brother feel. Just the genuine love behind that, you know what I mean?

“And on top of that, he paid for it. Him not even knowing my situation at that time -- I'm undrafted, come from poverty -- not even knowing I gotta be tight on everything I do … just paying for it, it speaks volumes of him.”

Wilson and Mostert spent the next four seasons with San Francisco before Mostert signed with the Dolphins in March. Wilson followed when the 49ers traded him to Miami on Nov. 1, reuniting him with his old backfield mate, as well as with Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel, who was the 49ers’ offensive coordinator in 2021.

Their reunion has been a smash hit for the Dolphins. Wilson has accumulated 215 total yards and two touchdowns on 32 touches in two games. During last week’s blowout win over the Cleveland Browns, Wilson and Mostert each scored and combined for 184 rushing yards on 25 carries, with Wilson gaining a team-high 119 yards.

“It’s fun to watch him rush,” Dolphins defensive tackle Christian Wilkins said of Wilson. “I don’t know who pisses him off before every game, but damn. He is a lot of fun to watch, and I’m glad he is on our team. He is a great teammate as well.”

Wilson said he gets words of encouragement and pats on the back when he returns to the sideline, but while his teammates are energized by his play, he said something about them fuels him, too.

“It’s the facial expressions that say more than words,” he said. “Just to come back and to see the guys giving me that look like, ‘I feel you, brother. Keep giving it to me. I feel you. You’re turning me up.’

“That’s what gives me the thrill out of it, to see them come back and be hyped and ready to play some NFL football.”

Miami struggled running the ball during the first eight weeks of the season, averaging just 88.1 yards per game. In its past two games, however, that number has sharply increased to 136 rushing yards per game.

McDaniel said he didn’t feel like his team was lacking in physicality when he lobbied for general manager Chris Grier to trade for Wilson. He’d been impressed by Mostert, who established himself as the Dolphins’ lead back from Week 5 through Week 8, and believed he and Wilson would play “extremely well” off each other.

When trying to explain the Wilson effect to the team, McDaniel -- a man not often at a loss for words -- struggled to explain it. But when the Dolphins experienced it for themselves, they understood.

“It’s made me so happy, because I couldn’t articulate it. I really couldn’t,” McDaniel said. “But when we were talking about it, I was like, ‘Just wait, guys. Just wait.’ I was very excited, because I knew we could benefit from something that wasn’t necessarily that we were missing, but he could add something that could do more than whatever his stats are.

“We’ve got a case of the Wilson-itis, I think, maybe. The whole team benefits from it … I think that it is something that our game can continue to grow in all aspects. I think [the Browns game] was the most physical that we’ve played on both sides of the ball. I think Jeff Wilson contributed to that, but I think we’re all just kind of growing in how we play our style of football. There’s a lot of people putting some more physical stuff on tape that it’s only going to help the Dolphins.”

Mostert said he "couldn't be prouder" of what Wilson has done since joining the Dolphins and believes they've formed a "good one-two punch" over the past two weeks. They'll be a key component for a resurgent Miami offense as it looks to add some balance to what's been a pass-heavy unit during the first half of the season.

It's the kind of situation they visualized at that Black Bear Diner four years ago.

"I remember when he came in undrafted and didn’t know if he was going to make the team," Mostert said. "Me and him sat in my car and talked a little bit, because I’m an undrafted guy as well, and now look at us. We’re both still playing in the league. I gave him some words of encouragement at the time and told him, ‘Hey, don’t worry about it, bro. You’re going to be good.’

"And now, it’s paying off, the hard work that he’s done thus far and have continued to do, even this year."