History was made when Miami Dolphins Jay Ajayi had three 200 yard running games last season. While it is an exciting and a winning formula. How did it arrive?
It would be great to ascertain that this was the plan the Miami Dolphins had all along. And what better way to welcome a new head coach? But I strongly have my doubts. For a few reasons.
The first of which is Adam Gase has already let his preference be known that he likes all around backs. And going back to early last season there was some consternation over Gase using so many backs rather than just playing the hot hand. Which he finally did around the quarter mark of the season. He must have been still waiting to see his ‘all around back’ still develop even at that late stage.
And the second one is Laremy Tunsil who fell last draft to the Miami Dolphins unexpectedly. They were so caught off guard (pun?) that I believe they never even had him in for a visit or looked at him not thinking he would be available.
So having someone like Laremy Tunsil was never meant to be. You have to go all the way back to 2008 when Jake Long was picked number one overall to find a lower OL pick than Tunsil magically falling to them at 13. The birth of the power run game was by accident.
It was also spurred on coincidentally enough by finally having a coach with an eye for talent and not being afraid to use his power. Even when it was early in a season that at the time was falling apart, he axed Billy Turner and Dallas Thomas. Although it would have been better to have done this before the season started.
The very next game with Laremy Tunsil and Branden Albert back in the line up. Jay Ajayi was able to blast his way with his first of what would be three games of over 200 yards rushing. A few things of note; Branden Albert did give it his all playing hurt and was an integral part to how the season played out. But as they say availability is the best ability and 32-year-old Albert is now about to join the Jaguars.
Also of note was even though the power run game was at times in full force. There were other times when it flat-out stunk. Ten games on the season the running game didn’t break one hundred yards. Two of those games were when Turner and Thomas started but that still leaves eight games to ponder.
And there might be room for some doubt heading into the new season. Can Albert’s absence and Tunsil’s past efforts filling in at guard (no sacks allowed) be matched with Ted Larsen or newly signed Isaac Asiata? Many speculate Mike ‘cane’ Pouncey whose down-field blocking is also key, won’t last the season because he was seen recently walking with the aid of a cane. Even though the Miami Dolphins have stated this to be a part of his normal healing process. The truth may fall somewhere in the middle.
One thing is for certain Pouncey will be on a training regiment that allows him to save it for game day much like Albert was. Injuries can happen to any player unexpectedly. But keeping a limit on players that tend to get injured more often is perhaps a harsher reality. And teams should cull some of these players on each part of the team to keep it at a reasonable level.
Ajayi himself had those concerns about his knee that allowed him to fall in the draft. Newly drafted Asiata is rumored to have the same speculation that caused him to fall to the same round and his age was a supposed concern also being age 25. Hopefully the Dolphins struck gold a second time as Ajayi has shown no ill effects structurally in his knee when he does break down late in a game it is more due to cramps or exhaustion.
Gase has stated he wants to get Ajayi as much as 100 more snaps for the coming season. However that does hing on getting the offense more snaps because last season they ranked last in the league. Getting Jay more involved catching passes was also mentioned.
An interesting stat on Ajayi is he has run a full yard more on average when running behind the spot occupied by RT Ja’wuan James who struggled early last season to a scheme change. And it is rumored that another such change is in the works for this coming season. But he just had his fifth-year option picked up which is said to be for $9.1 million so maybe that will help speed up the process this time.
So the power running game seems to have helped out last season. And it is something that many have long clamored for, myself included, just look at my writings early last season. But the big question is; Did it win over Adam Gase? Is it something to look forward to and build on? Or is it just one of the many options for Gase to pull out of his bag of tricks? We have yet to see effective TE play that is most likely coming.
Something that might show as an indicator of this is the development of undrafted free agent RB De’Veon Smith out of Michigan who has shown traits of a power back. That is if he can do his part also and compete at a high level in camp with the likes of Sinorise Perry and Storm Johnson. He has been something of a hot topic lately. But if he excels it might be a sign of using him for more than just a blocking back as earlier reports had indicated.