WEDNESDAY BUZZ COLUMN
Everything that could go right for Jay Ajayi the past few months has: Lamar Miller signed with the Houston Texans. The Dolphins’ pursuit of CJ Anderson and Chris Johnson fell short. Miami hired a coach, Adam Gase, who loves Ajayi’s skill set. The Dolphins didn’t have a high enough pick to draft Ezekiel Elliott and instead took speedy Kenyan Drake, who isn’t viewed as a three-down back.
So Ajayi stands as the front-runner to start, with Gase raving about his professionalism and noting he has “kind of separated himself from the rest of that group as far as consistency.”
Ajayi admitted: "I've been excited since I found out Lamar was moving on and the position would be available. I've been pushing myself… to have a great season, trying to prepare mentally to [be] a starter… I'm ready to elevate my game to a new level…. I think I’ve been doing a great job so far."
The most significant question: Will be there any drop-off from Miller, whose 4.5 rushing average was tied for 15th in the league, to Ajayi, whose 3.8 would have tied for 35th if he had enough carries to qualify?
Sidelined the first seven games last season with a cracked rib, Ajayi rushed for 8.2 and 8.0 yards per carry on a combined 11 attempts in his first two games. But he fell off dramatically, averaging no more than 3.3 per carry in six of his final seven games and rushing for two yards on seven carries in the finale against New England.
But ESPN’s KC Joyner, who analyzed all of Ajayi’s 49 carries, tells me that pedestrian per-carry average is misleading. Joyner said Ajayi received bad blocking on 71 percent of his carries, among the highest (or worst) in the NFL. He averaged 1.9 yards per rush on those plays with poor blocking, better than the 1.2 league average.
When Ajayi got good blocking, he averaged 9.0 yards per carry, better than both Miller's and the league's "good blocking" average, Joyner said. With Miami’s offensive line seemingly improved, Ajayi’s per-carry average should get a boost.
The Dolphins believe he’s closer to the player who averaged 5.6 yards per carry at Boise State and was a beast in the red zone, with 50 touchdown runs. Gase likes his shiftiness and ability to make decisive cuts.
“I know I can be a powerful runner (who) prides himself on breaking tackles,” Ajayi said. “But I wanted to add another arsenal to my game of being able to make those quick cuts, getting that one cut and getting down the field fast.” That’s why he’s shedding 10 pounds, to 220.
Ajayi dropped to the fifth round largely because of concerns about his knee, which he insists were overstated. “That injury occurred my freshman year, and I didn't miss a game after that,” he said. “I was never concerned about it and I feel great.”
Gase also likes Ajayi’s upside as a receiver; he caught seven passes for 90 yards last season after catching 73 for 771 (10.6 average) and five touchdowns at Boise State.
"Just seeing Coach Gase's offenses and seeing that he likes to throw the ball a lot,… we're going to need to know how to run good routes," he said.
• We hear this staff likes Damien Williams and he’s the front-runner for the No. 3 job (behind Ajayi and Drake), though Daniel Thomas might push Williams. Isaiah Pead faces an uphill climb. Miami continues to monitor Texans free agent Arian Foster, who’s coming off a ruptured Achilles after averaging just 2.6 yards on 63 carries.
• Players said the new offense is featuring some no huddle, and Ja’Wuan James said that --- combined with the heat --- left the defensive line slowed and tired in Tuesday’s practice. Keep in mind, though, that Miami has only one 1 p.m. home game in September, against Cleveland (but three in October).
• Please click here for a ton more Dolphins notes from today, on Tony Lippett, Jarvis Landry, Ja'Wuan James, Laremy Tunsil and Jason Jones.
• Whereas Dwyane Wade was aggressive in recruiting Joe Johnson in February, he isn’t going to try to woo internal or external free agents in the next two months because “I’m a free agent like they are. It's a little different than being under contract and saying, 'Hey, come to play with me.' You want to make sure that individual is doing what's best for them. I want personally what they feel is best for their career. Of course you want to play with great talent.”
• Of the teams with the top six batting averages in baseball, all are in the top 10 in runs, except – you guessed it – the Marlins, who are third in average (.274) but 23th in runs, a crazy differential and only slightly better than last year (eighth in average, 29th in runs).
Why does this keep happening with this team? Because the Marlins are below average in many offensive categories – hitting with runners on (20th, .245), steals (27th with 13), homers per at-bat (22nd) and more. Only Ichiro Suzuki, Derek Dietrich and Marcell Ozuna have hit well with runners in scoring position and two out. As one example, Christian Yelich hits .400 with none on, .236 with runners on.
• Though former four-star cornerback JC Jackson had strong interest in Miami, and cornerback is a need position, UM informed his junior college position coach, Isaac Shipp, that it won’t pursue him after initial inquires.
When Shipp told UM cornerbacks coach Mike Rumph that Jackson was acquitted on armed robbery charges, Rumph following marching orders, told Shipp that Jackson “got kicked out of [UF] and the fact he was in that situation period” concerned Mark Richt and the school, Shipp said.
“Miami doesn't want the drama; I get it,” Shipp said. “Good luck when you play against him.”
Jackson is considering South Carolina, among others.
So UM continues to search the transfer market for corners; as we noted last week, Rumph told me he and Manny Diaz believe former Texas safety Adrian Colbert can play there. In the meantime, we were told last week that UM was working on adding another transfer receiver and a fullback from Division 2 Mars Hill College, nestled in the mountains of Western North Carolina.
The Palm Beach Post's Matt Porter reported today that the Mars Hill fullback, former Georgia prep player Marquez Williams, will indeed be added and given a scholarship. He had no major offers out of high school, ESPN said.