Armando Salguero

Dolphins’ Ajayi keeps the right perspective amid a huge success

Miami Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi (23) is all smiles after running over 200 yards as the Miami Dolphins defeat the Pittsburgh Steelers at Hard Rock Stadium on Sun., Oct. 16, 2016.
Miami Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi (23) is all smiles after running over 200 yards as the Miami Dolphins defeat the Pittsburgh Steelers at Hard Rock Stadium on Sun., Oct. 16, 2016. adiaz@miamiherald.com

Entitled Jay Ajayi might still be basking in the glow of his 204-yard rushing performance against Pittsburgh because the NFL named him the AFC Offensive Player of the Week on Wednesday, and the Dolphins celebrated his achievement, giving their running back a nice acknowledgment of the feat during their morning team meeting.

In that meeting, by the way, coach Adam Gase made the point that with team success come individual honors, and he pointed to Ajay to illustrate the thought.

That and all the texts and phone calls from past friends, coaches and others, plus the attention teammates have put on him in recent days could cause Ajayi to feel a tad important.

Maybe overly important.

Again.

But that isn’t the Jay Ajayi coaches see now. That wasn’t the man standing in front of notepads and recorders and TV cameras Wednesday.

Jay Ajayi, Miami Dolphins running back, talks about his 200 yard plus running game as the team defeat the Pittsburgh Steelers, 30-15.

“It was good to have a performance like that, but I definitely don’t want to be satisfied,” Ajayi said. “Don’t want to be a one-hit wonder so to speak, so I’ll just keep working.”

Over and over, Ajayi used phrases like “motivated to build off that performance” and “don’t want to get too hung up on it.”

The second-year back just had a huge game, but he resisted sounding or acting like a guy with a huge ego.

And this is important because the Dolphins want a humble and hungry Ajayi. They don’t want Ajayi feeling like he has arrived or he has accomplished things because that didn’t work out so great earlier this season.

About two months ago, as the Dolphins were finishing their preseason schedule, Gase asked both Ajayi and Damien Williams to understand he needed them to play in the preseason finale.

That’s a big ask because players who have spots secure on the roster don’t often play in the preseason finale. That duty is for rookies and players trying to earn a spot or reputation.

And Ajay, after all, was the team’s starting running back from March when Lamar Miller left until that moment Gase asked him to play that final exhibition.

Williams accepted the coach’s request with gusto and played well. Ajayi apparently didn’t dig the assignment too much. He didn’t play with much desire. And he played terribly, fumbling once and dropping a pass.

Jarvis Landry, Miami Dolphins WR, talks about how the last play with Jay Ajayi touchdown was a result of practicing together this past week.

The response disappointed Gase and the rest of the coaching staff.

To make matters worse, Gase named Arian Foster the team’s starting running back for the season opener a couple of days later, and Ajayi apparently copped something of an attitude in the team’s building.

So Gase left Ajayi in South Florida when the team went to Seattle to start the season. Ajayi had been tackled hard before, but this fall from starting running back to off the travel roster was stunning.

Gase had sent a message, but that wasn’t its full text. When the Dolphins returned from the West Coast, coaches explained to Ajayi (more than once) how they wanted him to go about his business. They outlined their expectations for his professionalism.

That left Ajayi with a choice: Tank and risk his Dolphins career or reconsider his situation, take his coaches’ advice, and “grow up,” as several people within the organization have told me.

That was nearly two months ago for you and me. It is light years ago for Ajayi.

“I think a little bit of it is he was handed that job [as the starter] early, and he could’ve gotten lost in that,” Gase said. “That was a little bit on me for not creating a better sense of competition. Things went bad there for 10 days.

“What he did do, though, is he came back got his head straight, focused on what he needed to do and got himself better.”

There is little doubt Ajayi is better. He seems to get “it” better now.

That AFC award? He recognizes he didn’t win it by himself, and it doesn’t mean he has arrived.

“It’s huge,” Ajayi said. “I found out [Wednesday] in the team meeting. It’s a great feeling. At the same time, I just don’t want to get too caught up on it and just want to keep building.

The Miami Dolphins defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers 30-15 as Jay Ajayi had 25 carries for 204 yards.

“All credit to the whole offensive line. Couldn’t have done all of it without them and the receivers blocking outside as well. It was a great thing to do, and now we’ve got to go against the Bills and hopefully have another performance like that.”

By the way, this isn’t public-relations spin. Sure, Ajayi is saying the right things publicly and that’s one thing. But I’m told he’s doing the right things when the spotlight isn’t on him, when the closed practices are at full boil.

This is important to the Dolphins because they recognize 200-yard games don’t come around very often — there have been 126 since the NFL merger in 1970, and Ajayi’s is the only one so far in 2016.

So, yes, this was the week Ajayi might have reverted to his former self. But no …

“I think I still have a lot to prove,” Ajayi said. “Not only to myself but to a lot of people. I think that I’m continually just pushing myself to be better and be more consistent. So as you’ve seen, I’ve started to do better, but I just want to keep pushing forward because I know I can do a lot more.”

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