Miami Dolphins’ running back Jay Ajayi has told Double Coverage that his breakout season has been all about earning the respect of his fellow players and coaches as he enters his first NFL post-season game as the ‘Phins feature back.
Ajayi’s central role on the Dolphins offence is a far cry from his status in the season’s opening week, where he was left at home as a healthy scratch after expressing his unhappiness at Head Coach Adam Gase’s decision to start veteran Arian Foster.
The former Boise State runner admitted it was a tough time for him, but was thankful for the opportunity to learn from Foster while gaining the eye and respect of the coaches and players.
“It was tough because you want to be a competitor – you want to be out there on that field helping your team win. After that point, it was about moving past it and understanding from myself what I wanted to accomplish this year, so once the next week hit it was about tunnel focus,” said Ajayi.
“Arian was able to give me a lot of great tips on what it takes to be a pro. He’s been in the league for a long time and been through a lot, so he was able to give me advice based on his own experiences.”
– Ajayi on veteran running back Arian Foster
The Dolphins initially struggled with Ajayi in the backfield, starting 1-4 and prompting one local paper to call time on their season before it had really begun. After a horror show performance from Tannehill in a 30-17 loss to Tennesee in Week 5, rookie coach Gase pulled Ajayi aside to tell him that he was going to be taking a bigger role in the offence as part of sweeping changes in the team, something which Ajayi believes brought the team closer together.
“At that time, we weren’t doing very well, so it was more about us coming together and trying to steer the ship back in the right direction. We all rallied around and decided that we were accountable to each other. Coach Gase made some changes and people just started to believe in what we wanted to accomplish,” said Ajayi.
“We didn’t feel that our record at that time reflected who we were as a team and we wanted to go out there and change it. (Coach Gase) relates well to us as a younger coach. He does a lot of good things in the building to make it fun to come to work every day, and we can tell that he has a good vision of what he wants us to be and what he wants us to accomplish,”
“He’s putting together a good plan for us that we need to execute as a team.”
– Ajayi on Head Coach Adam Gase
Whatever the changes were, they certainly seemed to work as Ajayi rushed 1272 yards and eight touchdowns in the regular season, inspiring the #JayTrain hashtag from his British fans, supoort which Ajayi is keen to repay.
“It’s been really exciting for me personally – I really appreciate all the support and backing that I’ve had over the year. It makes you want to just keep pushing forward and raising my game.”
“I’m proud to be the only skill-position player from the UK and I want to represent well.”