May 30, 2018
When Jay Ajayi was back home in London last offseason, he had no idea what sort of journey he'd take before returning to his native land across the pond — or what he'd be brining back with him.
From Miami to Philadelphia in a mid season trade, all the way to Minneapolis where he became a Super Bowl champion, Ajayi never expected to take a trans-Atlantic trip with the Lombardi Trophy this past spring.
"I went back to London; that was special," Ajayi said after Eagles OTAs Tuesday. "I got to go back to my roots, bringing the trophy back with me. I got to take it to Wembley and kick a penalty; that was pretty special. Leading up to the World Cup, I got to sit with [the English National Team] and tell them my story. It was a great offseason leading up to this time now."
This time now is Ajayi's first full offseason as a member of the Eagles. And, after getting just 70 carries over seven games in Philly (scoring two total touchdowns while collecting 408 yards on the ground and 91 through the air), Ajayi is ready to be the go-to guy in 2018.
"[Ajayi] and I were talking the other day on the field and he said, 'It's just great to be he here’ — instead of trying to hit the ground running [like] last year," new Eagles offensive coordinator Mike Groh said. "Duce Staley did a great job getting him ready to play almost immediately, but he has a certain amount of comfort here heading into next season."
"I think it has been very beneficial," Ajayi said, echoing his coach. "Last year, it was [being] just thrown in the fire and learning on the fly, and I did a good job of picking up the playbook. But getting a good grasp of nuances of plays in the playbook and learning more plays than I was able to run last year — a whole year working with Duce as well, I learned so much from him over a short time — this will be a great year."
Put another way, Ajayi said that the "full menu is open," which will allow the 6-foot, 223-pound Boise State product to excel unabated.
In Miami, Ajayi ran the ball 447 times for 1,924 yards over parts of three seasons (38 total games). In 2016 he had eight touchdowns and was a work horse running back. After the departure of LeGarrette Blount this past offseason and with Darren Sproles still recovering from ACL surgery, Ajayi is the veteran of the running backs room.
"Things have been shaken up in our room and I am excited to get into that lead role and do what's needed from me," Ajayi said. "I am a year and a half removed from being the guy (in Miami). We have a lot of talented guys in our room, very versatile, it's about breeding that competition and me doing my part on the field and making those big plays when my number is called."
Currently, those vying for carries alongside Ajayi are local Super Bowl hero Corey Clement and other young and unproven backs like Wendell Smallwood, Donnell Pumphrey and free-agent acquisition Matt Jones. It's competition Ajayi sounds confident he can dominate in training camp to command a lion-share of carries when the season starts.
"I would like to consider myself a work horse running back, a grinder, I believe it's tough for a defense to go against me for four quarters with me running against them and pounding, pounding," Ajayi said. "Starting the game strong, and getting into that second half with the defense wearing down, that’s where I can get damage done."
There is one more piece of motivation — as if Ajayi really needs it.
With his sights firmly set on helping the Eagles on a journey toward a very rare Super Bowl repeat, his rookie contract is almost up. Philadelphia has no running back of the future tied up long term, but the team does seem to be investing more and more in young and cheaper talent in the backfield. Can Ajayi convince the Eagles front office to ink him to a big, long term second contract?
"Obviously I understand what the stakes are going into this season," he said. "I am not going to let it effect how I approach the season. For me, it's just about doing whatever I can to be the best running back in the NFL. At the end of the day, it will sort itself out. I can only control what I can control, and that's my play and my attitude every day."
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