A change of scenery has given Jay Ajayi second wind as Eagles backfield takes new shape

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The shocking trade that sent Jay Ajayi to the Eagles is still confusing to some. The Dolphins were all too happy to part ways with an All-Pro running back who had three games of 200+ rushing yards due to injury concerns and the impact he had on the locker room. When you take a player who has incredible talent and place him in a locker room where culture is the biggest factor and not distractions, it usually doesn’t take long to see if they will adapt to their new surroundings successfully. For the Eagles and Ajayi, The former Dolphins running back scored his first touchdown of the season in his Eagles debut against Denver and with Dallas just around the corner, excitement is building.

“think that Jay, I was impressed with Jay right off the bat in the first week how quickly he grasped it.” Said Offensive coordinator Frank Reich yesterday. “Particularly in the protections. And we’ve talked about that a lot in here, how important that is. And you just know. We’ve been around this game long enough as coaches, when a guy gets it, and Jay gets it.”

The Eagles backfield has seen many different shapes already this season. The injuries to Darren Sproles and strange offseason for Donnel Pumphrey left a once crowded backfield light on depth and reliant on downhill success from last year’s leader in rushing touchdowns, LeGarrette Blount. Blount would be nearly invisible some weeks while UDFA Corey Clement would shine and snatch the spotlight in others. While the backfield shapes-hifted depending on the team they faced, their production didn’t. With an eight game streak of 100+ rushing yards, the Eagles have been rampant running the ball. But with Ajayi now thrown into the mix as well, the Eagles backfield has the potential to be at its most lethal or most ineffective. Luckily for the Birds, they’ve added another player who simply understand that the team comes first…making the backfield even more stable than it was before.

“You can feel it right from the start.” Reich went on to say.  “It didn’t hurt to get a vote of confidence when [Running backs coach] Duce [Staley] tells me after the first day that Jay’s here, and he goes down in the meeting room with him for several hours just to have a crash course, and Duce has been around the block a few times, and for Duce to walk out of that meeting and say, ‘We’re good. We’re good. This guy’s going to be fine mentally.’ That’s what we’ve seen. So I think the best thing to say about it is: it’s not an issue. It’s not a distraction. It’s not prohibiting us because we do things the way we do with our backs and it’s by committee, we’re not hampered by the fact that he’s relatively new. We’d have a small package anyway, the way we do it. He’s able to handle whatever we give him at this point.”

Receiving raving reviews from Duce Staley isn’t exactly an easy thing to do, but it’s something Ajayi has done within weeks of being inside the building. After the game, the Brit stole glowingly of the Linc too, only adding to the positive rapport he seems to have with everyone in and around the team.

“Electric.” Ajayi excitedly described the environment as after the win over Denver. “Great football town. It’s exciting to see it for myself. Everyone has kind of spoken about it over the week and it was kind of exciting to see it with my own eyes for the first time.”

With one game under his belt on what was a small package of plays, Ajayi may now be ready to take the reins of the backfield. A Bye week will have given him plenty of time to workout the x’s and o’s and remaining unknowns, while one more week of practice will seemingly at this rate see him surge into the starting role.

In 2016, Ajayi earned a Pro Bowl berth after finishing fourth in the NFL with 1,272 rushing yards, marking the third-highest single-season total in Dolphins’ history. His remarkable season involving those three 200-yard games earned him three AFC Offensive Player of the Week awards and he was named Miami’s 2016 Dan Marino Most Valuable Player. The talent and potential is already there…and he’s adapting at an alarming rate.

“When there were 15 to 20 plays in that first game, that was more than I was anticipating.” Reich mentioned in Tuesday’s press conference. “I mean, sure, Duce Staley gave us that good news that, ‘Hey, we’re going to be good. Whatever we want to put on him for the first game, he’s going to be able to handle.’ We kind of thought going in, ‘Hey, we’ll give him it.’ But as the week went on, the package grew quite honestly. You know how we do it. We put numbers of backs on certain plays. By the end of the week, he was adapting so well and learning so well that we were adding his number to plays because he could handle it. So when I look at our game plan for this week, I honestly look at it, and there’s probably not a play on there that I wouldn’t feel comfortable putting his number on as far as him learning it and knowing what to do. So I just think that speaks a lot about him as a player.”

Like a Duck to water, Ajayi has splashed straight into the deep end with the Philadelphia Eagles. Will Ajayi be ready to lead the charge on Sunday against a weakened Dallas Defense? Only time will tell, but the future is certainly bright.

 

Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

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