Dolphins see limitless role for refined version of RB Kenyan Drake

Drake can do it all, but will he? (AP)

DAVIE — Adam Gase has always envisioned Dolphins running back Kenyan Drake as a player who could be an overwhelming threat in his offense if he could get his act together. Now that he has, apparently, it’s time for him to live up to that.

Drake, in his third year, is taking over as Miami’s primary running back with an eye on making his name as one of the most versatile and dangerous skill players in the NFL. Based on the progression Gase has seen, that’s a realistic aspiration.

“I think we just have a guy that’s really looking to bust out,” he said today.

Gase has never spoken this confidently about Drake. He’s been far more measured in his words until now.

Why the change? Drake’s changed. He’s no longer an easily distracted rookie with a slipshod approach to practice. The mental side has caught up to the ever-impressive physical repertoire, according to Gase, and that’s a huge gain for a Dolphins team that needs some fireworks offensively.

“I think he’s matured a lot, whether it be (with) the playbook or just him personally,” Gase said. “When you’re in this league, after you get through that first year, in the second year sometimes there’s a little bit of a feeling out process. You’re trying to figure out who you are.

“You’re starting to get older and you really realize this is a job and it’s different than college. I see a different guy in the way he prepares (and) knowing the situation he’s coming into this year. It’s been a good process to watch his maturity level on and off the field.”

Drake spent most of his first year and a half stuck on the bench behind Jay Ajayi, then shifted into a shared backfield with Damien Williams. That was short-lived because Williams suffered a season-ending shoulder injury, setting up Drake with a precious opportunity to finish the year as the man.

He seized his chance post-Ajayi and put together a promising second half of the season. He opened with 260 total yards and two touchdowns in four games in the part-time role with Williams, then erupted for a league-high 444 yards rushing, 150 yards receiving and two touchdowns as a solo act over the final five games.

The next phase is for Drake to become a more consistent runner, something Gase thinks will be aided by the arrival of 14th-year veteran Frank Gore, and to emerge in the passing game.

Running backs — not just here but everywhere — always talk about developing into pass-catchers, but it often doesn’t happen. Ajayi was all about it last offseason, then caught 14 balls in seven games. A dozen backs caught at least 50 passes last year, led by Le’Veon Bell at 85, and the Dolphins haven’t seen one produce like that since Ricky Williams’ 50 catches in 2003.

So what determines whether all the talk about being a receiver materializes into anything meaningful?

“Well, I mean, you want to be able to catch the ball,” Gase said sarcastically. “That’s a good start for it.”

That is crucial, but pretty much any skill player who steps on the field is decent at catching a football that hits him in the hands.

“It depends,” Gase continued. “Some guys make a living just catching checkdowns and being able to get yards after the catch, some guys you’re able to flex out and get one-on-one matchups.

“I think we’ve got a guy that can do multiple things. You could put him in the slot if you wanted to. You can use him in empty, you can use him from the backfield. You just can create a lot of different matchups. He has a really good feel for a lot of different types of routes, which there’s a lot of value there, because now linebackers, when they cover him, they’re not really sure what he’s going to do. He’s not tied into one thing or two things.”

There’s little question Drake has the ability to do everything Gase described, and now that he’s taking things more seriously, it’s time to amaze.

[Miami Dolphins’ 2018 salary cap spending shows their priorities]

[Takeaways from the Yahoo! Sports scouting series on the Dolphins]

[Parkland-Douglas football team makes Miami Dolphins draft announcements]

Check out The Palm Beach Post‘s Miami Dolphins page on Facebook.

Miami Dolphins’ next big star in 2018: Running back Kenyan Drake

Kenyan Drake could be a 2,000-yard weapon this season. (Getty Images)

The bad news for the Dolphins is they’ve lost a lot of stars over the past year.

The good news is that the stage is wide open for a new one to step in, especially on offense.

Running back Kenyan Drake is a good bet to be next.

Miami drafted Drake in the third round, No. 73 overall, in Adam Gase’s first offseason as coach and everything is aligned for him to have a breakout year. He will be the team’s primary running back this season and he’s the most versatile threat the offense has.

The Dolphins drafted Drake to be kind of dual-purpose back Gase insists upon for his offense, but he didn’t get the chance to hold that role full-time until they traded Jay Ajayi last October and lost Damien Williams to a season-ending shoulder injury the next month.

Once they were down to just him, Drake closed the season with ferocity and showed how high his ceiling is.

Over the final five games, he rushed for a league-best 444 yards at an average of 4.9 per carry. He also chipped in 150 yards on 17 catches. That’s more than he produced over his first 27 games as a pro and it projects to roughly 2,000 all-purpose yards over the course of a full season if he can keep it up.

The Dolphins could use it, certainly, after saying goodbye to receiver Jarvis Landry (4,157 total yards and 23 touchdowns in four seasons) and having an offensive lineup full of question marks.

Kenny Stills has been very good, but can he tip the 1,000-yard mark and be a true No. 1 receiver? DeVante Parker was supposed to be a star, but hasn’t come close yet. Albert Wilson has potential, but it’s still just potential for now. Tight end is the ultimate grab bag — a position in which recent second-round pick Mike Gesicki is the favorite over a few mostly unrecognizable names.

Drake’s nothing more than potential at this point, too, but the combination of his speed and Gase’s approach looks like it’ll be explosive.

One of Gase’s favorite players was longtime Bears running back Matt Forte, whom he coached in 2015. Forte had six seasons of 50-plus catches, including a team-best 102 for 808 yards the year before Gase arrived in Chicago.

Drake has that kind of ability, but the question has been whether his work ethic and mental makeup could match someone like Forte’s. There have been times in the last two years when Gase wasn’t sure.

“I want to possibly hurt Drake every once in a while, but he’s my guy,” Gase said after Drake’s rookie year. “He does so many good things but he always does one thing — whether it be on or off the field — that will test me every once in a while.”

It was one of those joking-but-kinda-not-joking comments. The truth is it hasn’t been smooth sailing for Drake with Miami and there have been legitimate doubts about whether he’d get it right.

Gase noticed a different approach from him, though, once he was the only option. Whether it was the realization that the team was counting entirely on him at running back or personal opportunism, something clicked for Drake in the second half of last season. Gase didn’t have to yell nearly as much and he believed he was witnessing a professional blossoming on the practice field.

Part of his desire to sign 14th-year veteran Frank Gore this offseason was to make sure that change was permanent. Gore isn’t entirely a symbolic signing, not after rushing for 961 yards last season, but his biggest contribution to the franchise might ultimately be his influence on Drake.

“I think he’s a great guy for us to have in that locker room and that running back room,” Gase said. “I think he’s a great guy for Drake to see work day in and day out.”

That’s putting it carefully. The expectation of Drake is that he will treat Gore like a mentor and glean everything he possibly can from how he handles his business. On the flipside, there were huge concerns internally — fair or not — that Ajayi was nudging him in an undesirable direction.

The Dolphins want to merge Drake’s incredible talent with Gore’s undeniable approach. That’s the perfect mix.

If that’s what they get, Drake is poised for a big season. With Miami searching for firepower on offense, a breakthrough by him will be just as good as any free agent acquisition could have been.

[Miami Dolphins’ 2018 salary cap spending shows their priorities]

[Takeaways from the Yahoo! Sports scouting series on the Dolphins]

[Parkland-Douglas football team makes Miami Dolphins draft announcements]

Check out The Palm Beach Post‘s Miami Dolphins page on Facebook.

2018 NFL free agents: Damien Williams’ curious departure from Miami Dolphins

Damien Williams made some plays for the Dolphins, and they might miss him. (Allen Eyestone/The Post)

The departure of running back Damien Williams seems like little more than a footnote on the Dolphins’ busy offseason. Considering they’ve dumped Jarvis Landry, Ndamukong Suh and Mike Pouncey over the past month, that’s no insult to Williams.

He leaves after becoming quite a success story for general manager Chris Grier and the organization after making the roster as an undrafted free agent in 2014 and putting himself in position to take over as the starting running back last season. Kansas City signed him to a one-year, $1.5 million contract Thursday.

Things really took off for Williams when he met a coach who knew how to use him. One of Adam Gase’s first undertakings after taking over the Dolphins in January 2016 was to sift through the roster for hidden gems. At Ryan Tannehill’s suggestion, he explored whether Williams had been underutilized by the previous coaching staffs.

He played a career-high 17 percent of the offensive snaps that year and had 115 yards rushing, 249 yards receiving and a career-high six total touchdowns. That was third on the team behind Kenny Stills (nine touchdowns) and Jay Ajayi (six).

Gase spoke of Williams as one of “his” guys and was drawn to his confidence and enthusiasm.

“That’s a guy who loves this sport,” Gase said in November 2016. “He loves competing. He loves practice. When you find a guy who practices the way he does, it’s hard to find that.

“Practice gets monotonous, especially at this point in the season, but he’s always the same guy. He’s always competing, always talking, gives a hard time to the linebackers. He’s a fun guy to be around every day.”

Williams’ relationship with the organization grew complicated in the ensuing offseason, when he wasn’t thrilled about the prospect of playing on the team tender of $1.8 million coming off what he felt was a promising season.

He visited the rival Patriots as a restricted free agent that offseason, but did not come away with an offer sheet. When the deadline passed for other teams to get involved, he deliberately put off signing his tender in protest of the Dolphins not giving him a better deal.

He eventually moved on, though, signed the contract and reported for all of Organized Team Activities, minicamp and training camp. Williams said last season any frustration about the way things went in Spring 2017 were behind him.

“We’re all good,” he said in December. “I’m all good.”

He took it another step by saying he had every intention of remaining with the Dolphins, though at the time he declined to delve too deeply into that because it was during the season and all his attention was on trying to come back from a separated shoulder.

That wasn’t surprising from Williams, who was a frequent recipient of the team’s War Daddy t-shirts. Those are awarded for team-first, gritty performances in games.

When Miami traded Jay Ajayi at the end of October, Gase installed a two-man backfield of Williams and Kenyan Drake that looked like the ideal combination of running backs he wanted. Both are fast and both are better receivers than Ajayi.

Williams, who still worked on special teams as well, was the starter and had 202 total yards and a touchdown in three full games before suffering the shoulder injury against New England on Thanksgiving weekend.

He wanted to return as quickly as possible, but was unable to do so. The Dolphins held him out of the final game of the year, which was meaningless because they’d already been eliminated from the playoff race.

Drake was tremendous once he took over the bulk of the snaps at running back and closed the year with 594 total yards and two touchdowns over the final five games. During that run, Williams was one of his biggest supporters in the locker room and on the sideline.

Williams also appeared to have a good relationship with Gase until the end. A month ago, he pointed back to Williams’ consistent support of Drake, and vice versa.

“Both those guys did a really good job,” Gase said. “They fed off each other. They were happy for each other when they had success.”

Williams had surgery on his shoulder after the season and could miss Organized Team Activities and minicamp for the Chiefs this offseason. While that almost certainly lowered his market in free agency, he is expected to be fully recovered in time for training camp.

Whatever the reason, the Dolphins opted to sort through cheaper running backs near the end of their careers this offseason rather than re-sign Williams. They brought in DeMarco Murray for a visit and ultimately signed Frank Gore yesterday. Gore turns 35 this spring, which is 10 years older than Williams.

While this might not have been the only factor, Gore is a bit cheaper for the cash-strapped Dolphins than Williams.

Even with him taking a pay cut from $1.8 to 1.5 million from last year in signing with Kansas City, that’s a bigger salary cap hit than paying Gore the veteran minimum. Gore will get $1 million in salary, but his cap hit will be even smaller. Last year’s cap hit for the veteran minimum on players with 10 or more years of experience, for example, was $615,000 with the possibility of an $80,000 bonus.

Perhaps that savings was worth it to Miami’s management now, but during the season, Gase might lament that one of his favorite weapons slipped away when it wouldn’t have taken much to keep him.

[Miami Dolphins believe tennis-related changes at Hard Rock Stadium will help future Super Bowl bids]

[Former all-pro RB DeMarco Murray to visit Miami Dolphins]

[A farewell to former Dolphins owner H. Wayne Huizenga]

Check out The Palm Beach Post‘s Miami Dolphins page on Facebook

Super Bowl LII: TV ratings down, particularly in South Florida

Fewer eyes were on the Super Bowl this year than in recent history. (Getty Images)

The allure of former Dolphin Jay Ajayi playing in the Super Bowl and Tom Brady’s bid for a historic sixth ring wasn’t enough to captivate South Florida.

While Super Bowls are always among the most watched television programs of all-time, Sunday’s game between the Patriots and Eagles was the lowest-rated since Super Bowl XLIII between the Cardinals and Steelers. It had an average of 103.4 million viewers, down from 111.9 million for Patriots-Falcons last year.

It was a down year for the game in Miami, in particular. Of the 56 markets tracked, it ranked 55th with just 38.7 percent of television-owning homes tuned in for the Super Bowl, according to an NBC spokesman.

For comparison, Buffalo was the top market at 56.4 percent of homes. The other top viewerships outside of the participating teams and host city were No. 4 Pittsburgh (54.9 percent), No. 6 Norfolk, Va. (53.9) and New Orleans (53).

[Problem for the Dolphins: The Patriots will still be great in 2018]]

[Eagles borrowed Super Bowl trick play from Dolphins’ OC]

[Dolphins WR DeVante Parker not off to great career start]

Check out The Palm Beach Post‘s Miami Dolphins page on Facebook

Eagles’ Jay Ajayi doesn’t appear to be missing Adam Gase, Miami Dolphins a whole lot

Actor and comedian J.B. Smoove interviews Jay Ajayi of the Eagles during SuperBowl LII Media Day in Minneapolis. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

Jay Ajayi had a rather intriguing reaction at the Super Bowl media bash when someone asked him what he thought of Dolphins coach Adam Gase.

Ajayi took a sip from his Gatorade cup. A smirk crossed his face. He then mumbled something — apparently to the effect of “next question” — then turned to NBC’s Tony Dungy to see what Dungy wanted to ask him.

So yes, the frosty departure of Ajayi from Miami is as frosty in Minneapolis as it was back on Halloween when the trade to the Philadelphia Eagles took place.

“To have come from a team where we were not performing well to a team that was successful and had a great locker room, a brotherhood, and I felt welcomed and appreciated, which was the most important thing for me,” Ajayi told reporters Monday night.

The Dolphins parted with their 2016 MVP for a fourth-round pick, with Gase upset that Ajayi too often looked for the home run rather than take the 4 yards the defense was giving him. In the process, Gase said, Ajayi was getting tackled for losses that the offense couldn’t overcome.

Since the playoffs began, Ajayi has made no secret of the chip he’s carrying toward the Dolphins and Gase. During the divisional round, he said, “I’ll have my redemption” when the Eagles win the Super Bowl.

It turns out that Ajayi has been to the Super Bowl before, only not as a player. He attended last year’s game while working in conjunction with NFLUK (Ajayi was born in England). Just don’t bother asking him too much about that historic Patriots comeback against the Falcons.

“I was at the game up until the third quarter but I got fed up because I couldn’t take the fact that I was watching the Super Bowl and I wasn’t playing in it,” Ajayi said, according to London’s Daily Mail. “At the time being at the Dolphins, watching the Patriots, it was really uncomfortable for me so I left the game early.

“I promised myself actually that I wouldn’t go back to the Super Bowl unless I was playing in it. So, I’m just glad that everything worked out and this year instead of being at the game shaking guys hands pregame and doing analysis at halftime I’m playing in the game. This is a dream come true. It’s crazy how things happen.”

Yes, Jay Ajayi is at the Super Bowl, but he’s also having to explain some things that no other participant might have to explain.

“Talking to my friends in Europe and my family in London I tell them it’s like playing in the Champions League final or the World Cup final,” Ayayi said. “It’s the pinnacle of the sport.”

Jason Taylor: Charles Harris is a future Miami Dolphins Pro Bowler

Jason Taylor weighs in on Jarvis Landry’s future

COLUMN: No way this should be Jarvis Landry’s last game in aqua and orange

Von Miller: Miami Dolphins already have their franchise QB

Why Jarvis Landry was intense, fiery and emotional – at dodgeball

Miami Dolphins Jarvis Landry: I believe Adam Gase wants me to stay

Top 10 Miami Dolphins Offseason Priorities

[Dolphins legend Don Shula asks for patience for coach Adam Gase]

Check out The Palm Beach Post‘s Miami Dolphins page on Facebook

 

‘Let’s GOOOOOO Jay:’ Miami Dolphins players celebrate Ajayi’s success

Philadelphia Eagles’ Jay Ajayi reacts after the NFL football NFC championship game against the Minnesota Vikings Sunday, Jan. 21, 2018, in Philadelphia. The Eagles won 38-7 to advance to Super Bowl LII. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

As Jay Ajayi was running over and around Minnesota Vikings on Sunday, his former Miami Dolphins teammates were rooting him on via social media.

“Big boy run!” Dolphins defensive back Walt Aikens tweeted.

“Let’s GOOOOOO Jay,” Dolphins defensive back Tony Lippett tweeted.

Miami wide receiver Jarvis Landry tweeted four train emojis for the Jay-Train.

The Dolphins may have traded Ajayi to Philadelphia four a fourth-rounder earlier this season, but it is clear that Ajayi is still close to many of his former teammates. When Ajayi fell to his knees, in realization that he had helped lead a team to the Super Bowl, many Dolphins applauded.

“My BOYYY 100 congrats,” Lippett said, retweeting video of Ajayi collapsing to the ground in a swell of emotion.

“Congrats @JayTrain get dat ring bruh” Dolphins running back Kenyan Drake, who replaced Ajayi, tweeted.

“Congrats to you bro! You look super explosive last night @JayTrain #ThatBoyBoutToGetARing,” Dolphins tight end MarQuies Gray tweeted.

It’s hard to know exactly how Dolphins management feels about Ajayi’s success in Philadelphia. They would likely say that the best trades are the ones in which each side gets what they want, something positive in return, and that they believe the pick will be valuable.

Some Dolphins players have shown their support of Ajayi’s success during the regular season as well as into the playoffs.

Last week, offensive tackle Ja’Wuan James posted a GIF of a steamrolling locomotive on Twitter. After Ajayi was dealt, some Dolphins acknowledged he was being dealt into a good situation — he’d have a legitimate shot at the Super Bowl.

Ajayi would likely say the change of scenery has been good for him, as well. Ajayi averaged 3.4 yards per carry with Miami this season, and 5.8 yards with the Eagles. Ajayi ran for 33 yards in Miami’s playoff loss last season and has averaged 64 yards in two Eagles playoff victories.

Some Miami fans pushed back toward Dolphins who were openly supporting Ajayi on social media.

But as Drake has explained, personal relationships don’t end when the business of football takes a player to another city. Drake also took some flak on social media for recognizing Tom Brady as the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time).

“The density of some people never ceases to amaze me,” Drake said. “Moral of the story: Never take twitter too seriously. Godspeed to my colleagues playing for a chance to win a Super Bowl. The ultimate goal! Can’t wait for our opportunity #FinsUp”

Baker Mayfield makes his plea: “#GetMeToMiami”

[SPECIAL FEATURE] Miami Dolphins: Potential 2018 NFL Draft Targets

[KEY STORY] Top 10 Miami Dolphins Offseason Priorities

Top 10 Miami Dolphins under 25: How ready are they?

Jarvis Landry’s agent: Discount for Miami Dolphins? Absolutely not.

Miami Dolphins: Could Jarvis Landry be transition tagged in 5 weeks?

 

Get stories in real time by liking the The Daily Dolphin Facebook Page

 

This is exactly why the Miami Dolphins badly slipped under Adam Gase in 2017

Under Jay Cutler, the Dolphins could move the ball through the air. They just couldn’t do it efficiently, avoiding turnovers. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

The formula that conspired to turn the Dolphins from a 10-win playoff team to a 6-10 also-ran can be boiled down to two glaring problems: 1) the inability to get the starting backfield on the field and 2) the inability to get (and keep) their hands on the football.

Those are the cold facts that jump off the page in an analysis of coach Adam Gase’s first two Dolphins teams.

Believe it or not, even with Jay Cutler subbing for the injured Ryan Tannehill, the Dolphins could have success throwing — just not nearly as efficiently as required in this league.

Believe it or not, the defense did improve under new coordinator Matt Burke — just not enough to offset glaring slippages in certain areas, most notably in takeaways.

Mix those elements with a running attack that took a nosedive without last year’s MVP, Jay Ajayi, and it goes a long way toward explaining why the Dolphins are watching these playoffs on TV.

Breaking it down:

• The passing game: The Dolphins threw the ball about as far under Cutler as they did under Tannehill in 2016 (3,700 yards). So what’s the problem? Touchdown passes and completion percentage were down. Interceptions were up. Put them together and you have an awful passing efficiency rating of 78.7 for the team as opposed to 95.5 last year.

• The running game: Ajayi’s negative runs drove Gase nuts to the point that he shipped Ajayi to the Eagles. Result: A running attack that ranked ninth last year plunged to 29th, which happens when you forfeit 27 yards per game on the ground.

• The defense: Remember what we said about bottom falling out on the team passer rating? The exact opposite happened for opposing quarterbacks. Last year, their rating against Miami was 80.5. This year: 94.8, meaning what they gained was equal to what Miami’s quarterbacks let slip away.

• Turnovers matter — a lot: Some strange things happened with Burke’s defense. It jumped from 29th in total defense to 16th. It gave up 30 fewer rushing yards per game after getting gashed by runners last year. It allowed 17 fewer passing yards per game.

Only problem: points. The Dolphins went from 18th as a scoring defense to 29th. You’d have to try for all these elements to be true, right? Not if your team goes from a plus-two in giveaway-takeaway differential to a minus-14.

The defense recovered just six fumbles. It made just nine interceptions, compared to 21 picks thrown by Miami. That lack of interceptions by the defense — seven fewer than last year — was the greatest factor in opponents’ passer rating skyrocketing in 2017.

Add that up and you have a defense put in bad situations by the offense, and one that was clueless on how to get out of those bad situations.

• Penalties are killing the Dolphins: Since Adam Gase took over, the Dolphins have been penalized 262 times for 2,295 yards. If that sounds like a lot, consider that they committed more penalties in each of Gase’s two seasons than the Dolphins’ championship teams of 1972 and ’73 had combined.

• The red zone: The Dolphins have become predictable once they cross the opponents’ 20. They ran only 27 out of 101 plays in the red zone, compared to 55 rushes year. As a result, rushing TDs dropped from 14 to four.

• Slow starts: It sounds like an age-old problem because it is, but the Dolphins have to figure out a way to not play catch-up. Over the past two seasons, they have outscored opponents by 45 points in the second half and overtime. A lot of good that does when they’ve been outscored by 174 points in the first half.

Nick Buoniconti warns parents, says, ‘CTE has taken my life away’

Final grades for 2017 Dolphins are in — see how receivers fared

Here are top 10 plays of the year by the Dolphins

Jarvis Landry’s agent: Discount for Miami Dolphins? Absolutely not.

Miami Dolphins: Could Jarvis Landry be transition tagged in 5 weeks?

Jay Ajayi, Chris Hogan and all the other former Fins in action this Sunday

[SPECIAL FEATURE] Miami Dolphins: Potential 2018 NFL Draft Targets

[KEY STORY] Top 10 Miami Dolphins Offseason Priorities

Get stories in real time by liking the The Daily Dolphin Facebook Page

Jay Ajayi’s Train of thought: Stick it to Miami Dolphins with Super Bowl win

Philadelphia Eagles running back Jay Ajayi goes airborne against Atlanta’s Brooks Reed. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)

Jay Ajayi hasn’t been a Dolphin for half a season, but they’re still on his mind.

After rushing 15 times for 54 yards and a 3.6 average in Philadelphia’s 15-10 divisional victory over Atlanta on Saturday, Ajayi said he hopes to repay the Dolphins for trading him to the Eagles.

Except the way Ajayi put it, it’s more like payback.

“I don’t think it will be redemption until I win the Super Bowl,” Ajayi said, according to NJ.com. “If we can get that done, then I’ll have my redemption.”

[RELATED: Kenyan Drake looks like a back who can carry the load for Dolphins in ’18]

When reporters asked if he’s driven to avenge the Dolphins’ decision to trade him, Ajayi said, “Yes.”

When reporters asked if he’s trying to prove the Dolphins wrong, he again said, “Yes.”

It shouldn’t be a surprise. Ever since he lasted until the fifth round of the 2015 draft, Ajayi has repeatedly said he’ll carry that chip on his shoulder for the rest of his career. That chip became a boulder on Halloween when the Dolphins traded their reigning MVP for a fourth-round pick. Attitude and too many negative runs contributed to the trade.

Ajayi’s efficiency improved with Philly. He played seven games with each team, rushing for 465 yards for the Dolphins and 408 with Philly, but his per-carry average jumped from 3.4 in Miami to 5.8 with the Eagles, who have rotated him with LeGarrette Blount. After scoring eight touchdowns last season, he scored just once, for the Eagles, this season.

Ajayi had the rare opportunity to face the Falcons twice this season in different uniforms. As a Dolphin on Oct. 15, he carried 26 times for 130 yards (a 5.0 average), his final 100-yard game for Miami.

Ajayi’s desire to stick it to the Dolphins got off to a rocky start Saturday. On the second snap of the game, he fumbled, handing the Falcons the ball and leading to a field goal.

To put Ajayi’s 54 yards in perspective, yards were tough to come by all day, as evidenced by the Eagles finishing with 334 and the Falcons 281.

But his day was a mixed bag. Following his fumble, he averaged 8.6 yards on his next five carries.

Then he disappeared, unused for most of the second quarter.

Then he was ineffective. His six third-quarter attempts netted 4 yards, including three runs that failed to gain anything.

In the fourth quarter, he turned a short pass from Nick Foles into a 32-yard gain, setting up a field goal.

“I feel like I played poorly,” Ajayi said.

Eagles reporters focused on why the Jay Train made that unscheduled second-quarter stop. It’s hard to pin the inactivity on just the fumble because Ajayi played extensively right after that.

“I ultimately control the personnel,” coach Doug Pederson said Monday, according to NJ.com. “ … A couple of times you come off a long run, or a big pass, it can be a good time to go a little (up)-tempo. In that case, whoever is the back at the time, we just keep him on the field.

“At that point, (Blount) was heating up a little bit. We wanted to get him going, too.”

Blount had an 8-yard run followed by 1, 1 (for a touchdown), minus-4 and minus-1. Blount, 31, has averaged just 2.7 yards per carry over the past five games, which hardly constitutes “heating up.”

Pederson, also a former Dolphin, said the change wasn’t related to specific plays called because “every back” is expected to know every play.

Vikings made historic TD, but here are top 20 stunning plays by Dolphins

Miami Dolphins 2017: bad on field, but how bad against the spread?

 Get stories in real time by liking the The Daily Dolphin Facebook Page

New train of thought: Miami Dolphins’ Kenyan Drake can carry load for RBs

Dolphins running back Kenyan Drake (32) breaks off a big gain against New England Patriots free safety Devin McCourty at Hard Rock Stadium in December. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

SECOND IN A SERIES

What went wrong for the Dolphins this season? What went right (if anything)? We assigned letter grades to each position group after every game. So with the season over, it’s time to issue final grades and see who flunked and who gets a gold star. Today, a position that endured turmoil: running backs.


Straight talk

Whatever we thought we knew about the 2017 Dolphins when training camp opened, we really didn’t know.

It was true of the quarterbacks, obviously. And the linebackers. For sheer shock value — and forgive the terrible pun — there is one position that could give either of those positions a run.

We thought that in team MVP Jay Ajayi, the Dolphins had their running back for the present and the future, the kind of workhorse who could take over games.

[RELATED: See how low the quarterbacks fared in the season-ending report card]

Today, the Jay Train has left the station and the Dolphins hope Kenyan Drake can be that guy. No, I did not predict the Dolphins would trade Ajayi to Philadelphia for a mere fourth-rounder, but looking back over my report cards, I was struck by a comment after the game against the Ravens, which would be Ajayi’s last with Miami. Ajayi started that game with a 21-yarder before things went south.

“The number of carries by Ajayi that fail to gain yardage (and many lose yardage) is a troubling trend, so bad that Ajayi averaged 3.27 inches on his next 11 carries,” I wrote that day.

Dolphins running back Damien Williams grimaces as he is carried from the field on a cart against the Patriots in Foxborough. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

Ajayi’s penchant for swinging for the home run, along with his attitude, were too much for Adam Gase. The next man up was Damien Williams, a powerful back whose production-to-opportunities ratio would surprise you. But Williams was banged up the second half of the season, as was just about every back outside of Drake, who until then had always been told to wait his turn.

And then? A 42-yard run against the Raiders by Drake. A 66-yard touchdown on an otherwise downer of a day in Carolina. Another 42-yard run, this time for a touchdown vs. the Broncos. Most impressive: 193 yards from scrimmage in the home game vs. the Patriots.

So where does that leave us? With a couple of curious statistics about this team that really make you wonder about its offensive identity: The Dolphins ranked at the bottom of the league in rushing attempts (last), rushing yards (29th) and rushing TDs (tied for last). But they more than held their own with runs for chunk yardage, finishing in the middle of the pack in runs of 20-plus yards and among the league leaders with four runs of 40 or more yards.

What does this tell us? Two things:

1. Even without Ajayi, the Dolphins continued their boom-or-bust ways on the ground, hitting home runs or striking out, but rarely delivering the singles and doubles you need.

2. Just like in the Joe Philbin era, they continue their annoying habit of falling behind in games and either choosing to abandon the run or having no choice in the matter.

In 2018, that must change.

What it all means

Stats and league rankings: 360 attempts (last in NFL), 1,388 yards (29th), 3.9 average (tied for 22nd), 4 TDs (tied for last), 10 runs of 20 or more yards (tied for 14th), 4 runs of 40 or more yards (tied for 6th), 5 fumbles (tied for 10th fewest)

Number of times RBs received an A: 4

Number of times RBs received an F: 0

Season GPA: 2.59 (B-minus)

Analysis: I like what I see in Drake, who can catch and has a burst that scares defenses. I’ve always liked what Williams offers, especially in the red zone. On the times Miami’s backs have gotten stuffed, I tended to blame blocking more than the backs themselves.

Adjusted final grade: B

Adam Gase sticks by decision to sign Jay Cutler

Turmoil on Patriots? It’s worth watching for Dolphins fans

Dolphins hire Jeremiah Washburn as OL coach

Miami Dolphins 2017: bad on field, but how bad against the spread?

 Get stories in real time by liking the The Daily Dolphin Facebook Page

Injuries have Dolphins going into Broncos game with 2 running backs

Kenyan Drake doesn’t have much behind him against the Broncos. (Allen Eyestone/The Post)

DAVIE—Adam Gase likes keeping it narrow at running back, but the Dolphins’ current situation might be a little too tight even for his taste.

Damien Williams is dealing with a serious shoulder injury, and little-used reserve Senorise Perry remains in the concussion protocol. That leaves Miami with two running backs going into Sunday’s game against Denver: Kenyan Drake and De’Veon Smith. That’s not ideal.

Drake’s role as a kick return is almost certainly going to be scaled back, if not scrapped altogether. While he figured to be a big part of the offense anyway, Gase prefers not to settle in one running back. He believed Drake and Williams were a great combination for the versatility he wants out of the backfield. Now it’ll be Drake and Smith, a bulky power runner who’s been on the practice squad all year.

“We’ve got contingency plans, as far as what we can do and some of the things we have backed up,” Gase said after today’s practice. “Who can do what? We’ve thought through all of this. We’ve had a couple of days.”

By contingency plans, he means that players from other positions have been repping at running back in practice in case of emergency. For competitive reasons, Gase declined to specify who is in line for those snaps.

Drake’s been good since the team dealt Jay Ajayi to Philadelphia, aside from two lost fumbles. In four games since the trade, he’s put up 175 yards rushing and 82 receiving. He’s averaging 5.8 yards per touch.

“Him and Damien having to split time, it’s been good for him,” Gase said. “He’s been great in meetings. He’s done a really good job at practice. He really works to get things right.

“Sometimes guys just need an opportunity to know they’re going to play. When you’re kind of that third guy and you’re thinking, ‘Well, I might get one touch and I might not really get a lot of reps on offense,’ that’s the hardest part about when you go to pro football is understanding that your number can be called at any time.”

When Williams is healthy, Gase’s preference is to keep using both guys. But for now, with Williams looking like he’ll miss multiple games, Drake is by far his most dependable option.

“I like using multiple guys,” Gase said. “I like guys moving in and out and I like having guys that can do multiple things and really put pressure on the defense where they can’t focus on one thing. I don’t know. We might be out of that game.”

[Bill Belichick shows the Dolphins what he really thinks of them]

[Grading the Dolphins after a 35-17 loss at New England]

[Is DeVante Parker to blame for another interception?]

Check out The Palm Beach Post‘s Miami Dolphins page on Facebook