Miami Dolphins

Dolphins RB Drake, an understudy at Alabama, has a shot at stardom

Alabama running back Kenyan Drake runs a drill at the NFL football scouting combine in Saturday, Feb. 27, 2016, in Indianapolis.
Alabama running back Kenyan Drake runs a drill at the NFL football scouting combine in Saturday, Feb. 27, 2016, in Indianapolis. AP

Kenyan Drake, the Dolphins’ next great hope at running back, had exactly 1 rushing yard in January’s national championship game.

And yet, there’s a sporting chance that Clemson, not Alabama, would be champs if Drake wasn’t on the field that night.

That’s because Drake roasted Clemson for one of the most clutch kick returns in college football history. The Tigers had just sliced the Crimson Tide’s lead to four points midway through the fourth quarter. Clemson needed a stop. Alabama needed a spark.

Drake, the career understudy running back, provided the latter.

He caught the Clemson kickoff at the 5 beyond the right hash, cut back left at the 20, broke a tackle, turned the corner, made kicker Greg Huegel miss and then had nothing but open field in front of him.

Clemson would never serious threaten again.

Now, can the Dolphins expect that sort of magic out of their third-round pick every Sunday this fall?

Of course not. But speed is speed, and Drake brings it to a team that didn’t have much last season.

“You look at his career, he’s done a little bit of everything.” Dolphins special teams coordinator Darren Rizzi said recently. “He’s caught passes. He’s run the ball well. He’s had high yards per carry. He’s caught the ball out of the backfield. He’s covered kicks. It’s almost like ‘What can’t this guy do?’”

Well, there is one item still on the checklist: be a bell-cow running back who carries the ball 20 times a game.

Alabama simply didn’t need him in that role. Drake backed up Eddie Lacy as a freshman. He backed up T.J. Yeldon as sophomore. And his final two seasons on campus, he backed up Derrick Henry.

All three are now pros, and Henry won the Heisman Trophy in 2015.

Drake, meanwhile, never had 100 carries in a season at Alabama. Henry ran the ball nearly twice as many times last year as Drake did in his entire collegiate career.

“We didn’t necessarily see it as playing behind each other — playing in front of each other — because we were all in one room trying to obtain one goal, and that was to be the best we could be,” Drake said during the team’s rookie minicamp last week. “Anytime they made a play, I was happy for them. We were together anytime I made a play, and vice versa.”

Drake added: “That’s what I’m going to bring here to this team is selflessness and a willing to go out and win in any way possible.”

That’s good. Because the Dolphins plan to use him in any way possible.

Drake might return kicks (if he wins the job over Jarvis Landry and Jakeem Grant). Same with punts. He will run the ball. He will catch it out of the backfield. And he will block too.

How much he plays is up to him. For the first time in Drake’s career, there’s not a clear-cut starter ahead of him.

Jay Ajayi, who has impressed this spring, has all of 49 carries as a pro. And everyone else the Dolphins have is just fighting for a spot on the roster.

New coach Adam Gase will presumably let training camp and the preseason determine who starts, but Drake and Ajayi can expect plenty of exercise this season.

And while it would be easy to pigeonhole Ajayi as the first- and second-down back with Drake coming in on passing downs, that’s probably not the way it will go. Instead, Gase will likely be more inclined to let each back have a own series and ride with the hot hand.

So it’s important for Drake to prove he can be effective on every down and in any situation.

“My skill set, in my eyes, it allowed me to be the best back in the draft,” Drake said. “I want to continue to prove that throughout my NFL career.”

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

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