With multi-threat running back Arian Foster in question for Sunday’s game because of an injury, the Dolphins appear to be back in an open competition for the starting job.
Miami coach Adam Gase didn’t frame it in exactly those terms after Wednesday’s practice, but did not commit to anyone as the starter for Sunday’s home opener against Cleveland and plans to evaluate the week of practice before deciding. Any progress from Foster would change the equation as well.
Jay Ajayi is next on the depth chart, but he began his season by being left home for the opener and was ineffective against New England with 14 yards and a lost fumble on his five attempts. He held the No. 1 spot until the end of the preseason, when Foster jumped him, and now he appears to be on equal footing with the other contenders.
“I think we are going to use whoever we need to use this game,” Gase said. “If it’s more than one, I’m not opposed to that. I think all of those guys have great skillsets and they’re all different, which is a strength for us. We’ll just see how this goes.”
The most intriguing option among the other backs is third-round pick Kenyan Drake, who might ultimately be Miami’s future at the position. He’s competing with Ajayi and a pair of guys still looking for their breakthrough in Isaiah Pead and Damien Williams.
Drake was an elite runner at Alabama, capping his time there with a national championship as a senior, and got some time as a complimentary back in the Patriots game. He rushed twice, once for five yards and another time for a seven-yard touchdown. He’s shown good composure for a rookie and was emotionless when talking about the possibility of getting his first NFL start.
“I’m not here to worry about the depth chart,” Drake said. “Wherever I play, that’s their job to evaluate who should do what.”
The Dolphins (0-2) need somebody to kick start a running game that has been ineffective so far. They’re the sixth-worst rushing team in the league at 67 yards per game and sit in the middle at 3.7 per carry. That could have something to do with their slow starts offensively.
None of the potential fill-ins have ever carried the ball more than 11 times in an NFL game.
Ajayi was Lamar Miller’s backup last year and put up 187 yards and a touchdown on 49 carries. Pead got 19 attempts in his three years with St. Louis, and Williams got 52 over his first two seasons with Miami.
Ajayi straightened out the issue that prompted Gase to exclude him from the Seattle trip and has been working on special teams to make himself as useful as possible. They appear to be on good terms at the moment.
“He has been very engaged,” Gase said. “He has done a great job as far as a special teams role. I think that’s a little different for him, because he was a starter for so long, and sometimes when you’re in that role, you lose track a little bit as far as understanding that it might flip flop one time. All of a sudden, now you’re needed on special teams. I think what he did was he reevaluated what was going on.”
Foster’s health remains the biggest wildcard as Miami goes through the week, because he would be the obvious choice if he can go.
Foster got rolling with 100 total yards in the opener, raising hope for a resurgence after losing most of last season to a ruptured Achilles. He was working through a hamstring injury last week and exited early in the second quarter against New England.
The Dolphins typically hold Foster out of Wednesday practices as part of a preservation plan because of his age (30) and injury history, but Gase said he wouldn’t have been able to work anyway because of the groin issue. The team probably won’t know his availability until Friday at the earliest.