Miami Dolphins

Dolphins opt for running back ‘by committee’ approach

Miami Dolphins head coach Adam Gase talks with quarterback Jay Cutler (6) in the fourth quarter against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., on September 24, 2017. (Al Diaz/Miami Herald/TNS)
Miami Dolphins head coach Adam Gase talks with quarterback Jay Cutler (6) in the fourth quarter against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., on September 24, 2017. (Al Diaz/Miami Herald/TNS) TNS

The two running backs who will try to replace Jay Ajayi have a combined 142 career carries between them and just one NFL start. But the Dolphins made clear Thursday that neither Damien Williams nor Kenyan Drake will be expected to carry a load as substantial as Ajayi did.

“It will be by committee,” offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen said. “It won’t be like Jay would have 24, 25, 26 carries. It shouldn’t be that situation. It’s a violent position.”

While not diminishing the trade of Ajayi to Philadelphia for a fourth-round pick, Christensen said the Drake/Williams pairing offers “maybe slightly” more versatility “because you don’t have to substitute” players as often.

Also, Drake and Williams “are a little more natural of a receiver,” Christensen said. “There is a versatility with those guys and screens and some of those things.”

The flipside, though, is “they also aren’t quite as violent” as Ajayi.

With Drake, the question is whether he can handle a bigger workload. He was a backup at Alabama and had durability issues, sustaining seven different injuries as a college player, according to reports.

“I’m not certain because we don’t have empirical data on it,” Christensen said. “He has carried a heavy workload on special teams, so he’s NFL tested. You are not throwing a guy in there who doesn’t understand how violent the game is in this league.”

And Drake also has the type of explosiveness that make the Dolphins believe he he considerable upside.

“He’s an extremely fast guy and he’s an extremely good receiving skill guy,” Christensen said. “He’s a different style than Jay Ajayi was. Just his speed, his ability to take the ball around the corner, his ability to bounce it or go back door. You’re not quite as sure where he’s going to run. That gives you a little extra threat. His speed is to be feared. And his hands are extremely good.”

Christensen said “there will be some challenges for him,” citing “protection issues,” but coach Adam Gase said Drake has been capable in that area.

“Kenyan is pretty good in pass protection,” Gase said. “He’s a little more stout than what people realize. He looks like he’s thinner than most backs. He’s put together well. He does a good job of stepping up and meeting contact and delivering the blow.”

As for Williams, the big question is whether he’s a better runner than the career 3.3 per carry average (on 99 attempts) would suggest.

“Average --- you can take that for what it’s worth,” Gase said. “I look at efficiency. There have been a lot of situations where Damien has done exactly what we need him to do. There’s a lot of trust there for me.

“He wears a lot of different hats and he does it well. It’s rare to see one guy bring him down. A lot of times it happens on third down or fourth down where you take a shot at him and he spins off and runs a couple more guys over. He’s a relentless runner. He’s one of those guys you would rather not hit the ground.”

Williams took over as the Dolphins’ goal-line back last season and that will continue.

“He’s a tough guy on that stuff,” Christensen said.

Gase said the plays he calls for Drake and Williams won’t be substantially different than those he ran for Ajayi, though “there are certain things we like to try to use with each guy.”


• Defensive end William Hayes did not practice again on Thursday with a hamstring injury, putting his status in doubt for Sunday’s game. And defensive end Andre Branch, who missed the Baltimore game with a groin injury, was again limited in Thursday’s practice.

Quarterback Jay Cutler had another full practice - he plans to play Sunday - and Gase said he sees no ill effects or tentativeness from the cracked ribs. But backup QB Matt Moore missed practice with a back injury.

• Gase didn’t only deliver a sharp message to his players this week. He also "made clear to the coaches you are responsible for your group," Christensen said. "If the group doesn’t execute, that goes on the coordinator and it would go on me and it would be taken personally and it should be taken personally. Just at a point where Coach Gase was clear you have got to learn it or get changed out and try something [else]."

• Special teams coordinator Darren Rizzi said defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh would be the team’s kicker if Cody Parkey is injured during a game. Suh’s range on field goals extends to 45 yards, Rizzi said. He practices a couple each week.

Related stories from Miami Herald