The message, delivered by coach Adam Gase to his players this week, couldn’t have been more clear:
“He said, ‘This is where we’re at, this is where we’re going to go; if you’re not on board, you’re going to be the hell out of there,’ ” center Mike Pouncey said.
One prominent player is already gone, running back Jay Ajayi dispatched to Philadelphia for a fourth-round pick because of substandard performance (running and blocking) and what was portrayed as a questionable attitude and occasional penchant for complaining.
That left the locker room stunned and left Miami without an established lead running back.
“Didn’t see it coming,” DeVante Parker said Wednesday.
“Shocked,” Kenyan Drake said.
Although multiple sources said Gase was displeased with Ajayi — it was the Dolphins who initiated trade calls to dump him — Gase did not specifically criticize him on Wednesday, saying only that it “was just time for us to move on. We’ve got some younger players there that we feel like we were going to move forward with.”
Gase said the Dolphins made no attempt to acquire a veteran running back before the trade deadline: “We didn’t inquire about anyone else. For right now, I like the group I’ve got.”
Gase declined to say which of those young backs — Drake, Damien Williams or to a lesser extent Senorise Perry — would start on Sunday against Oakland or what their roles would be.
But Gase expressed faith in all three, even though Williams has a 2.7 rushing average this season (12 for 32) and Drake 2.5 (10 for 25). Williams has played just 83 offensive snaps this season, Drake 46.
“Damien has impressed me from the get-go,” Gase said. “I was told when I got here that when the lights come on Sunday, he’s one of those guys you want with you. He has done nothing but make plays for us.
“Kenyan, we really feel fits the mold we’re looking for in that backfield. With those two guys, I like the fact that they’re able to catch the ball, run good routes, run the ball both inside and outside. They’re physical. We like their skill sets.”
Williams, who caught 23 passes for 249 yards last season but just eight for 50 this season, has just a 3.3 rushing average on 99 career carries.
Drake flashed as a rookie last season, averaging 5.4 yards on 33 carries. He insisted Wednesday that “I’m not going to look at it as any big opportunity.” He said Gase told him nothing about his role beyond to “play my best football.”
Pouncey said “it’s our job up front, the five [linemen] and our tight ends, to make the run game go. Kenyan is really, really fast. Damien is not going to go down easily. He knows what he’s doing on every play. I think they’re going to do a really good job.”
Asked about the Ajayi trade in the context of the business side of football, Pouncey said: “It sucks. It could be any one of us. Jay was really good to us.”
Gase didn’t directly answer when asked whether the Ajayi trade was designed to send a message. “I don’t know,” he said. “That’s something you would have to ask those guys.”
What disappointed Gase most about Ajayi’s 2 1/2 seasons with the team?
“We’ve had ups and downs, but that [happens with] a lot of players,” Gase said. “It’s just [about] getting on the same page and sharing the same philosophy of how we want to do things. I think he tried to do what we were asking him to do a majority of the time. He had a lot of really positive games. It was just time for probably us to go separate ways.”
Asked if the Dolphins are better off now than they were with Ajayi, Gase said: “I like where we’re at right now.”
The 2018 fourth-round pick that Miami will acquire for Ajayi likely will be a low pick, in the high 130s or low 140s. The Eagles own Minnesota’s, New England’s and their own fourth-rounder, and Miami will get the middle of those three picks. That’s probably going to be a low pick considering all three teams have three of the five best records in the league.
• Ajayi told Eagles reporters: "Those are the criticisms that are out there. I can only speak on how I view myself. I view myself as a 'team guy'.