DAVIE – Running back Jay Ajayi possessed a smash-mouth running style that set the tone for the Dolphins’ offense in 2016. Now that he’s no longer a member of the Miami Dolphins, second-year running back Kenyan Drake has been asked to step up and fill the void.
From a sheer talent perspective, Drake has all the makings of a featured running back, but his strengths are vastly different from Ajayi. One distinct advantage Drake has compared to Ajayi is his lateral quickness, which has presented a challenge to the Dolphins’ offensive line.
“So there’s a lot of factors that go into it,” offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen said. “All of a sudden, you’re blocking the thing and you think he’s going up off my left hip here and then all of a sudden, I’ve got my guy locked down and all of a sudden he runs around the right corner and he starts to leave and I thought the ball was going … Now all of a sudden I’ve got to make sure that I don’t grab hold and restrict him. So yes, there’s a lot of things that go on and it makes it interesting for him; but it is different. It is different. Jay [Ajayi], you kind of knew where he was going to hit it and you just start bulldozing and pushing piles. This guy, it can go anywhere.”
Drake’s lateral quickness and vision allows him to exploit creases along the defensive front, but if his offensive linemen lose track of him they could be more susceptible to more holding penalties.
“I think the more reps he gets, the more he understands when he should press the ball up, where he can help our O-line with some of the holding calls,” coach Adam Gase said. “When you have a guy with his ability to jump laterally and really get guys pulled off of the offensive linemen and they don’t expect you to do certain things, that’s where you have that miscommunication. That’s the good and the bad of having a guy with his ability. It’s really going to be reps of just understanding how much he has to press the heels of the offensive line to help them out and keep them on their blocks. I think over time it’s only going to get better”
Despite the unique challenges his running style presents, the positives far outweigh the difficulties associated with blocking for a shifty running back such as Drake. He’s a legitimate home-run hitter, and the most explosive starting running back the Dolphins have had since Reggie Bush was with the Dolphins.
While Drake isn’t a power back, his strength as an interior runner should not go unrecognized. Drake broke nine tackles last week against the Denver Broncos, which is emblematic of his underrated strength.
Many Dolphins, fans might miss Ajayi’s rough and rugged running style, but Drake has the potential to be every bit as good, if not better – in his own way.