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Jay Ajayi 'excited' for Miami Dolphins' new weapons, Ndamukong Suh mentoring rookies

By
Alex Butler
Los Angeles Rams linebacker Alec Ogletree (52) tackles Miami Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi (23) at the LA Coliseum on November 20 in Los Angeles, Calif. File photo by Jon SooHoo/UPI
Los Angeles Rams linebacker Alec Ogletree (52) tackles Miami Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi (23) at the LA Coliseum on November 20 in Los Angeles, Calif. File photo by Jon SooHoo/UPI | License Photo

May 23 (UPI) -- It's only Adam Gase's second year as a head coach and the Miami Dolphins have already become acquainted with the formerly unfamiliar.

A culture installed in Gase's first season led the franchise into the postseason. A cast of rookie defenders, essential free agent acquisitions, and an injection of offensive skill players has Miami poised for another strong AFC East finish.

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And it all starts with coach Gase, according to defensive line anchor Ndamukong Suh.

Suh talked after the team's first OTAs Tuesday in Davie, Fla. The team leader has sat with the bitter remnants of a postseason loss stuck in his teeth. He was also forced to savor the historically-bad performance put up by the team's defense during the regular season. In 2016, Suh led one of the worst defenses in the AFC. A man, who was brought in to improve the Dolphins' run defense, watched it rank No. 30 last season against opposing ball carriers.

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The Dolphins' cast of draft picks might improve those eye-gouging stats. Six of Miami's eight picks from the 2017 NFL Draft are defensive players, led by first round defensive end Charles Harris. The Dolphins also have a new defensive coordinator in Matt Burke.

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Those first-year players have already professed their "love" for their new coach, but buying into his philosophy will be a process. That process changes constantly, according to Suh.

Suh said he is unquestionably responsible for making sure Gase's "culture" makes it into the ears of his young teammates.

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"Without question," Suh said Tuesday. "I think the rookies I've had some good interactions with...especially today. Obviously when they were drafted, it was a little tougher. But the great thing about this world of technology is that you can communicate all over the world wherever they're at. I was able to be in contact with them even though I wasn't physically here but I think it's a good start."

Although Suh wasn't named one of the Dolphins' permanent captains in 2016, he typically lets his physical play and intense reputation do the teaching and the talking. Suh contributed 72 tackles six passes defended, five sacks and one fumble recovery last season. The three-time All-Pro earned his fourth selection to the Pro Bowl.

The No. 55 player on the NFL Network's Top 100 list for 2017 made a point this offseason to verbalize that leadership. He texted and called the Dolphins' newest defensive tackles immediately after they were picked up in the draft.

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"The culture in my opinion, is growing," said Suh, who signed a six-year, $114 million deal to come to the Dolphins during the 2015 offseason. "It's something that is always going to continue to evolve. It's always based off of your head coach, and I think we've got a great head coach, so being able to take his lessons and the things that he's learned in his career and what he wants to affect on us and be our particular focus, is what we're going to go with. And every year it's going to be a little bit different, because your team changes, no matter what."

While the Dolphins' defense allowed a franchise-worst 6,122 yards last season, their offense found a rising star.

Jay Ajayi could be considered the first major victim-turned-benefactor of Gase's culture shift.

It was Ajayi who was left in Miami when the Dolphins kicked off their regular season slate on the road against the Seattle Seahawks. Ajayi was upset about not getting the starting nod for the Dolphins' season-opener. He responded with a motivated 2016 campaign a few weeks later. In his second start of the season he exploded for a career-best 204 rushing yards. A week later he ran for 214 yards. Ajayi added another 200-yard rushing performance in Week 16.

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While the Dolphins traded away left tackle Branden Albert and center Mike Pouncey is slowly recovering from hip issues, the franchise was able to retain free agent wide receiver Kenny Stills and made a huge addition in tight end Julius Thomas. Jarvis Landry is in a contract year and coaches have had nothing but praise for third-year wide receiver DeVante Parker. Ajayi, who had 1,272 rushing yards last season, won't be battling an accomplished veteran like Arian Foster for carries this year. He was already giddy after getting a first peek at the offense Tuesday.

"It's really exciting," said the 2016 Pro Bowl selection. "Just going out on the field today for the first OTA, looking out on our offense and not really seeing too many new faces – guys that have been in this program since last year – and we kind of know what to expect from each other. We have the new faces, of course, to bring them up to speed; but it's really exciting. We're excited about what we've got on our offense and it's just about going out there each day during these OTAs and this summer, put in all these good practices together and preparing for a great year."

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The Dolphins partake in their second OTA session on Wednesday at the Baptist Health Training Facility at Nova Southeastern University. Miami's three-day minicamp begins on June 13.

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