EAGLES LOCKER ROOM ADJUSTS TO ADDITION OF JAY AJAYI
When it was announced the Eagles had pulled off a trade with the Miami Dolphins to acquire Pro Bowl running back Jay Ajayi for a 2018 fourth round pick, people immediately brought up concerns about the reasons Miami parted ways with a young, productive ball carrier.
There were numerous reports that Ajayi had been a bad locker room influence, that he was combative with coaches, that the Dolphins basically gave him to the Eagles to get away from him.
The Eagles, on the other hand, have tremendous chemistry in their locker room this season. That good will comes from winning, and the Eagles have the best record in the NFL at 7-1.
They also have a productive running back corps led by two-time Super Bowl champion LeGarrette Blount who has been known to be a coach’s handful himself at times.
And while the Eagles have rushed for an average of 129.2 yards per game as a team, ranked No. 5 in the NFL, as a group they are poor blockers.
Last week against the San Francisco 49ers, the Eagles allowed three sacks in the first half plus numerous hurries against the No. 30 defense in the NFL.
The Eagles future Hall of Fame left tackle Jason Peters is out of the season with a knee injury. There were no real options to upgrade the position over Halapoulivaati Vaitai, so their best option was to get a running back who can block and Ajayi has been rated as one of the better blocking running backs in the league.
The Eagles brass believe the leaders in their locker room will be able to handle any inflated egos they put in there.
Eagles standout right tackle Lane Johnson, a leader on offense was asked after the trade…other locker rooms are great. What separates this locker room from them?
“They’re not in this town,” Johnson said without hesitation. “They (Eagles fans) want to win. And when you get guys who are desperate to win and hungry this (town) motivates you.”
There was no better evidence of that passion than what was displayed last spring when Philadelphia hosted the NFL draft. About a quarter million mostly Eagles fans show up and chanted E-A-G-L-E-S EAGLES! over and over all weekend.
“It’s just really motivating,” Johnson said. “You see how hungry all the people are to win around here, people here feel good when you win. So you keep on keeping on.”
Johnson went on to say bringing in Ajayi and his personality was no big deal.
“He’ll become just another member of the group,” Johnson said. “And whatever deficiencies he may have, we’ll help him out, like we would any teammate. I’m not worried about it. I think he’ll fit in just fine here and we’re happy to have him.”
Ajayi played college football at Boise State and was drafted by the Miami Dolphins in the fifth round of the 2015 NFL Draft.
Ajayi entered the 2017 season as the Dolphins’ top running back. With the Dolphins not playing in Week one due to Hurricane Irma, Ajayi made his season debut in Week 2. In Week 2, against the Los Angeles Chargers, he had 28 carries for 122 yards in the 19–17 win.
In nine games played his rookie year, he carried the ball 49 times for for 187 yards and a touchdown. In 2016, in 15 games, Ajayi had 261 carries for 1,272 yards and eight TDs and was selected to the Pro Bowl. In 2017 before the trade Ajayi had 138 carries 465, no TDs
Ajayi was asked why was he traded?
“I have no idea,” Ajayi said at his Wednesday’s press conference. “It is what it is. It’s a business. And at the end of the day I can just say I respect the Dolphins for giving me the opportunity to chase my dream of being in the NFL. I can say I respect all my teammates, I love those guys. I bled, fought and won a lot of games with those guys. But God has another plan for me and that is to be here with the Philadelphia Eagles.”
When reminded that Miami head coach Adam Gase had been quoted saying it was time to “move on” with regards to Ajayi, he replied. “Those are the criticisms that are out there,” Ajayi said. “I can only speak on how I view myself and I view myself as a team guy. And I am excited to be here, on the Eagles, I’m excited for this opportunity. Those are days in the past. I woke up today as a Philadelphia Eagle and I am excited about that.”
The Dolphins spent the better part of a week this summer training with the Birds at NovaCare, then played Miami in a preseason game that the Eagles won 38-31. Ajayi was outstanding rushing nine times for 53 yards and two touchdowns.
During his stay in Philadelphia, Ajayi said he talked to Blount a few times as well as running backs coach Duce Staley, who Ajayi admitted to be a fan of growing up watching NFL games.
“I was just talking to coach Duce,” Ajayi said. “It’s kind of ironic I’m here event though we got to see each other earlier this year over the summer in training camp. We even spoke very briefly in passing. And now for him to be my running back coach, I’m very excited about the opportunity. He was somebody I looked at when I was starting to even follow football. And I can remember the name Duce Staley as a Philadelphia Eagles running back. For him to be my running backs coach, I’m excited. I know that he’ll be able to bring the best game out of me..I’m just excited to be here.”
The 24-year old was asked how can it work with five running backs sharing one ball?
“I think it’s the coaches decision to make on that,” Ajayi said. “For me personally, in our running backs room, is just to go inside there and push each other to be great. I know myself personally, I strive to be great every day. I’m excited to come into this talented room and join these running backs and achieving our goal of helping this team win a Super Bowl.”
Johnson was asked about Ajayi’s ability to block and pick up blitzes.
“He has great field vision,” Johnson said. “He’s had multiple 200-yard games so he’s kind of a complete package. He’s very smart. He’s powerful and has great cutback ability. He has a great sense for where linebackers are, where the holes are. That’s just from what I’ve seen.”
Blount stood at his locker Wednesday and answered questions about Ajayi and how he was dealing with it.
“You know, you can never have enough depth,” Blount said. “You can never have enough depth and any position. Obviously he is someone who can contribute to out team. And he can help us a lot. We’re going to welcome him with open arms.”
At his press conference earlier in the day head coach Doug Pederson insisted that nothing had changed on the Eagles depth chart and that Blount was and will be his starter.
Blount was asked is Pederson’s comments were well received.
“It means alot,” Blount said. “Respect-wise, just acknowledging the fact that I work my tail off for this organization. It shows a lot in his character.”
Blount was asked what Ajayi can add to this offense?
“He adds depth, obviously,” Blount said. “He rushed for almost 1800 yards last year. He’s a Pro Bowler. He’s done a lot of good things in this league. We’re just looking for him to continue to do that.”
Blount was asked if he was concerned about losing snaps.
“That’s something I can’t answer,” Blount said. “As far as I go, I’m just worried about me, I’m just worried about what I can control and run every day like I’ve been doing. The touches will come.”
What about chemistry in the locker room?
“Locker room chemistry is extremely important,” Blount said. “You have to have everybody on the same page. You have to have everybody that buys into the program and what you need to do to win football games. This move shouldn’t set our sights off what our focus is and what the task is at hand. And that’s playing the Denver Broncos this weekend.” *
Follow Al Thompson on Twitter @thompsoniii