The Miami Dolphins dealt with some misfortune during their first day of full padded contact. The next-man-up mentality has been used before, and it is exactly what they will do this time.
A large part of the Miami Dolphins offense last season was Jay Ajayi; he established himself as a very physical runner who will always fight for the extra yards. In doing so, as you all know, he turned into one of the better running backs in the league today.
In the first full-contact practice, safety T.J. McDonald popped Jay Ajayi and caused the team to take Jay Train out of practice and enter concussion protocol. For the remainder of practice, Kenyan Drake got some looks with the first team offense.
As much of a blow as it is to lose your starting running back, especially one of Ajayi’s caliber, there is no time in the NFL to grieve over the loss. Last season, as Ryan Tannehill went down with a knee injury, backup quarterback Matt Moore started the next game and came right out of the gate throwing four touchdown passes.
In that same season, both of the starting safeties- Isa Abdul-Quddus and Reshad Jones- sustained season-ending injuries (one was career-ending). But the team came right back with new acquisition Bacarri Rambo and veteran Michael Thomas. The two came in and did a serviceable job, a good enough job to propel the team to the playoffs.
Mike Pouncey and Kraig Urbik / Anthony Steen have a very similar story. Same with Xavien Howard and Tony Lippett. The point is, this is no new feat for the Miami Dolphins. Adam Gase has emphasized the Next-Man-Up mentality because it is a very efficient mindset.
Jay Ajayi going down only opens the door for someone else. Let’s take a look at the candidates…
Kenyan Drake is the back that makes the most sense. After a year in the league (and in Gase’s offense), Drake is no longer wide-eyed on the field. Everything is slowing down for him, which is good for him since he has blazing speed.
In the small amount of traini0ng camp that we’ve seen, Drake has shown a heap of improvement. He showed his breakaway speed on his lone touchdown run of last season. His hands are proven due to the fact that he was going to be slated as a possible third down back in the 2017 season. He’s also shown willingness to block and do the dirty work a running back must endure.
The man has seemingly always been a backup, dating back to his college days behind Derrick Henry. But his skillset is different from both Ajayi and Henry. Kenyan Drake is less of a Marshawn Lynch and Adrian Peterson, but more of a Jamaal Charles and Le’Veon Bell.
He uses vision, speed and shiftiness to get around a defense. But that’s not to say he lacks in size. he has shown flashes of hard-hitting even in this training camp.
Given all of the specifics, he has the tools to be an every down back, it is now up to him to prove that he can handle such a role.
Beyond Drake is Damien Williams, a true pass-catching back. He has been the 3rd down back in recent years and has done a terrific job doing so. That part of his game is set.
He need to improve on running the football. He can pound the rock in the endzone on short yardage situations, but he is not known for taking a handoff and getting through or around a defender very easily (yet).
He does have a start to his name. He started one last game last season (Thursday Night Football against the Cincinnati Bengals), but he did not do much at all that game.
He will likely not be a starter, but he could see a large uptick in snaps if Ajayi were to miss significant time.
Storm Johnson is likely the biggest surprise of training camp in Miami. The young running back is fighting for a roster spot and was quite a far fetch to make the roster at the start of the offseason. But times are different now, and Storm (along with whatever nicknames to come) is looking like a strong candidate to round out the 53-man roster.
The deal for Storm is this: he has the tools and style to be a starting running back for the Dolphins. His game is similar to Ajayi. He is not a small man; he will be fighting through contact. The quickest route for him to see the field would be if Kenyan Drake cannot grasp as a starter.
If this were the case, Drake would likely take a backseat to Storm Johnson. Johnson would get the early-down reps and fight for yardage and Drake could spell him out with Damien Williams coming in for passing downs.
Storm Johnson has turned some heads in the last week (similar to Isaiah Pead from a year ago) and might just run his way onto the roster as an insurance policy.
De’Veon Smith is the remaining option. He seemed like a quality pickup as an undrafted free agent, as he is essentially a Jay Ajayi clone. He is a physical back with good speed and vision.
The problem is we haven’t seen much of Smith recently do to an injury. Currently on the PUP list, Smith will look to show what he can do near the end of training camp. But for now, the former Michigan standout must wait until he is fully recovered.
Beyond Ajayi, the Dolphins assuredly have some bodies so there is little need to go out and purchase a veteran free-agent running back.
These next few weeks of training camp will give the coaches some extra looks at their young backup running backs, which should and will prepare both the coaches and the running backs for when another incident might pop up.
All of this is said with the intention for Jay Train to miss no more than two weeks, which is ZERO actual playing time. Ajayi will very likely be back well in time for week one against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The team is pleased with their depth at running back and you should be too.
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