Miami Dolphins

Dolphins’ Ajayi goes from pariah to potential starter in two weeks

Jay Ajayi is back in Adam Gase’s good graces, just in time. Ajayi could win back the starting job he lost to a now-injured Arian Foster with a strong week in practice.
Jay Ajayi is back in Adam Gase’s good graces, just in time. Ajayi could win back the starting job he lost to a now-injured Arian Foster with a strong week in practice. Associated Press

Arian Foster might be the one who is injured.

But the Jay Ajayi rehabilitation project is well under way.

Not his body. From the neck up.

Ajayi has the chance to go from the doghouse to the penthouse in the span of just two weeks. Foster’s groin injury has opened the door. Now Ajayi just needs to walk through it.

Foster did not practice Wednesday and is almost certainly out Sunday against the Browns, so Ajayi has the chance to seize the starting running back job that he thought was his throughout most of training camp. But he will have to earn it.

“We’ll look at practice this week, and when we put our [script] together, then we’ll have an idea who it’ll be,” Dolphins coach Adam Gase said. “I think we’re going to use whoever we need to use in this game. And if it’s more than one, I’m not opposed to that.”

With Foster down, Ajayi, Kenyan Drake, Isaiah Pead and Damien Williams will all compete to take the first snap Sunday.

Ajayi is the most logical choice — assuming the attitude issues that kept him home in the opener truly are behind him.

Ajayi didn’t handle losing the starting job to Foster the right way, and Gase punished him for it. But Ajayi told the Miami Herald on Wednesday that he has had “conversations” with Gase since the issue and said: “We’re good.”

Gase seemed to agree.

“He’s been very engaged,” the coach said before praising Ajayi’s willingness to play special teams and his effort in pass protection. “I think if we keep rolling with him with where we’re at right now, we should improve throughout the year.”

Teammates have helped with that. Branden Albert, in particular, has gotten in Ajayi’s ear.

Here’s what Albert told him:

“Stay patient, do what you got to do. You can’t go in the tank. You got to be professional about your job.”

Albert speaks from experience. When the left tackle played for Kansas City, Chiefs management brought in a potential replacement seemingly every year.

“You’ve just got to plug away, be the person who you are and don’t let nobody change you and stay grounded and do what’s asked of you,” Albert continued. “Do your job. You can’t worry about what you can’t control. That’s my advice.”

When asked Wednesday whether this is a fresh start, Ajayi simply said he feels like this will be a good week for him.

And what will it take to win that job?

“Just consistency, earning the coaches’ trust and making plays when your number is called,” Ajayi said.

The second-year pro knows there’s a line of backs ready to step in if he doesn’t.

Drake would appear next in that line; the rookie from Alabama was the only other running back active Sunday. He was also Miami’s most effective runner, albeit in a tiny sample size. Drake gained 12 yards on the first two carries of his career, one of which went for a touchdown.

What Drake lacks in experience he more than makes up for in moxie. On Wednesday he insisted he wasn’t nervous about potentially starting Sunday.

“I’m ready to play in general. It doesn’t matter if I start or if I don’t,” said Drake, who added he would be just fine getting 20 to 25 carries Sunday. “Of course. I’m a football player. Who wouldn’t want to get the carries?”

That would be a huge jump for Drake, who never had more than 14 carries in his 38 games at Alabama.

But considering the Dolphins are 27th in the NFL in rushing (68.5 yards per game), perhaps no idea is too far-fetched.

“I’m all right with where we’re at right now,” Gase said. “I know why certain things are what they are. You’ll know if I’ve got a concern about the running game.”

Adam H. Beasley: 305-376-3565, @AdamHBeasley

Related stories from Miami Herald