Jay Ajayi is the pickle juice-guzzling, soccer ball-juggling, linebacker-trucking rookie who just might be the Dolphins’ running back of the future.
That is, assuming his right knee cooperates.
Ajayi is four years removed from an ACL tear that mangled the surrounding cartilage.
Four years from now, he could be the second coming of Christian Okoye. Or he could be out of the league altogether.
Premium content for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
That broad uncertainty dropped Ajayi from the second round to the fifth in the draft — simultaneously costing the Boise State bruiser millions and providing the Dolphins too much value to pass up with the 149th pick.
Last weekend, Ajayi passed his first professional test. He made it through the team’s rookie minicamp unscathed — with no brace, protective sleeve or limitations.
“I felt great,” Ajayi said Saturday. “I felt healthy. I felt great. I’m happy to be out here. This is a dream come true for me, and I’m just out here trying to perform.”
As for his coach’s assessment?
“He’s a big guy,” Joe Philbin said of the 6-0, 221-pounder. “I like the size, No. 1, I like his production on tape. No. 2, He’s very enthusiastic. He seems very eager out here.”
Philbin added: “I thought he did some good things with special teams. ... The lead carrier in college, special teams goes a little bit by the wayside, but I think it’s going to be something that will be important for him. I like the way he practices.”
Effort has never been a concern with Ajayi. Not when he was a child kicking a soccer ball in London. Not when his parents, both of Nigerian descent, move him to Texas at age 7 and he picked up a football.
And not at Boise State, where he rushed for 46 touchdowns and more than 3,200 yards his final two seasons.
He chose football over soccer in high school, despite having a path to the Nigerian national team in the latter.
“No regrets at all,” he said.
But in the fall of 2011, Ajayi could have been forgiven if he had a few second thoughts.
He encountered crises of his own making (he was arrested for stealing sweatpants from a Boise area Wal-Mart) and beyond his control (when his right knee gave out days later).
The double whammy almost ended his football career before it even started. The arrest sent him so deep into then-coach Chris Petersen’s doghouse, Ajayi was given fewer than eight carries per game in 2012, despite averaging an absurd 6.7 yards per attempt.
And when the sample size increased in 2013 and 2014, Ajayi’s efficiency barely dipped. His secret weapon: chugging pickle juice on the sidelines to stave off cramps.
“I haven’t had any yet,” Philbin said under an 85-degree sun Saturday. “I guess if it’s got some magic touch to it I’d love to have some.”
And Ajayi insists that was the only thing he needed during his absurd junior season, when he became the first player in FBS history to have more than 1,800 yards rushing and 500 yards receiving. Some have speculated that his knee needed an injection before games; absolutely not, he clarified.
Still, whispers of bone-on-bone damage to that right knee were loud enough to scare off all 32 teams during draft weekend. He expected to be selected early in Day 2, not midway through Day 3.
“It’s very surreal,” Ajayi added. “That draft process is so long, from January to now, and after awhile you just want it to be over and get back to what we’re doing out here. I’m excited to be out here, perfecting my craft, to be a Miami Dolphin. This is a great opportunity for me.”
▪ The Dolphins rewarded tryout tight end Tim Semisch with a contract Monday. To make room on the roster, they waived Ryan Taylor, also a tight end.
The Dolphins also claimed former Cowboys offensive lineman Donald Hawkins off waivers Monday; lineman Mark Asper has been cut.
▪ The Dolphins have not renewed the contracts of college scouts Brad Forsyth and Marcus Hendrickson. Both were hired by the team last August.