Jay Ajayi doesn’t mind thinking of himself as more of a workhorse than a thoroughbred.
The Miami Dolphins 229 pound running back was the NFL’s fourth-leading rusher in 2016 but his 17.3 carries-per-game average with only 11th most leaguewide. So if 260 carries was good, Ajayi thinks more than that -- maybe 320 to 350 carries -- is better.
“So last year I felt good to be able to carry the ball,” Ajayi said Tuesday after the first of the Dolphins three minicamp practices. “At the end of the year I did get banged up in that Bills game but each week I was able to carry the ball and go out there and do whatever needed to be done -- however many carries that was.
“Knowing what we kind of want to do this year and knowing myself and how I felt in some of the games where I was able to get into rhythm and get over 20 carries, I felt we were able to do well. And in those games that I got to a certain amount of carries, that was when our offense was doing the best. When we got a certain amount of plays on offense we scored more points and both sides of the ball were also doing well.
“If that’s the case then I’ll be completely for [getting the ball more]. And I’m ready for that. That’s what I’m preparing myself to do. So we’ll see happens this year as the season comes up. Each game plan each week could be different but I know for myself personally I’ll be ready to carry the ball however many times I have to.”
So more is better, Ajayi believes.
“I feel like I’m a workhorse and I get better as the game keeps going and I continue to be a part of the game,” So, yeah, I feel like if I continue to get certain amount of carries, that will be good for our team as well.”
Dolphins coach Adam Gase joked earlier this offseason he might want to give Ajayi the ball between 22 and 25 times a game. That probably is too much because now we’re talking up to 400 carries for the season.
But if you consider Ajayi getting 20 carries and maybe catching a pass or two every game, that’s a lot of touches for a player who had a breakout year in ‘16 and is working toward improving in ‘17.
“It’s slowed down for him a lot from where we were last year compared to where we are right now,” Gase said of Ajayi. “The questions he brings up to us are very detailed. We’re really beyond next level questions. They’re really quarterbackish questions. I love the way his intrigue of what’s going on at his position has been outstanding.
“He wants to be a guy that can be counted on for second and third down. He does not want to come off the field. Everyone gets concerned with the amount of carries and his physical style of running and we’ll handle that as we go. But I love the mentality that he has right now. He wants to be a guy that’s relied on right now. He’s our bell cow running back. At the same time he’s our top third-down guy and red area and two-minute guy. He wants to be the guy that no matter what the situation is we’ll have him in the game.”
That sounds great in June. But the reality is going to have to be managed with care in October, November and December. That will fall on how Ajayi’s body reacts to getting more work and how well coaches manage him.
“It’s hard to make in-year predictions because every game is a story on its own,” Gase said. “It’s hard to say every game it’s going to be 22 to 25 times every game, but I’ve been involved in games where we’ve have 47 plays on offense and we’ve scored 42 points. It’s so crazy. And we had 12 rushes. You never know what’s going to happen in a game. You stay aware of what’s going on to understand how many carries there has been. Nobody is probably aware how many carries there were last year when we had a holding penalty of something like that and it doesn’t get counted on the stat sheet officially. We look at the amount of attempts last year but how many of those were considered no-plays. Well, I know he didn’t consider them no-plays because he got stroked by somebody.
“So you have to be conscious as a coaching staff that we’re getting up there in numbers. Each week that’s our job to come in a take a look at that. There are certain running backs that find a way to not take that square shot. And the way he runs, he took some big hits last year, but a lot of times they’re glancing blows, or he delivers the blow. Every run has its own narrative behind it. As coaches you have to stay on it.
“I’m constantly going to him. I’ll check on Monday, Tuesday, even Wednesday to see how’s he recovering. How does it compare to where he was last year. Because if he says he’s still hurting on Thursday, then I know we worked him pretty good last week and it’s affected him a little more than I initially realized. You have to stay on it throughout the week and throughout the year.”
Follow Armando Salguero on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero