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Miami Dolphins' Jay Ajayi believes he can 'do everything'

By
Alex Butler

June 13 (UPI) -- At this stage of the NFL season, all athletes look good in shorts. But Miami Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi is pushing himself to be the "best."

The emerging star made his first Pro Bowl last season. He enters his third year with praise from multiple coaches regarding his work ethic and improved receiving ability.

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The fifth-round pick out of Boise State came to the Dolphins in the 2015 NFL Draft. With the Broncos, Ajayi showcased his receiving ability out of the backfield, especially during his junior campaign. That year Ajayi had 2,358 yards from scrimmage and scored 32 times. He had 535 receiving yards on 50 catches in 2014 for the Broncos.

At the pro level, he has been less impressive with the mitts. Ajayi averaged less than two catches per game last season. He has 34 total grabs in 24 career games.

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The London-born back turns 24-years-old on Thursday.

"I know I can do it, personally," Ajayi said Tuesday, on the first day of mandatory three-day minicamp in Davie, Fla. "During college, I was a guy who was able to catch the ball out of the backfield and also run. I prided myself in being able to do everything and be on the field for the whole game. Getting into the NFL, I know it's a lot different, but I still believe I have that skillset. It was really about developing it even more now at this level and trying to push myself to become elite. That's really what I've been working on, knowing that I have the skillset and really putting the hammer to the nail and working tirelessly at it [so] I can go out there Sundays and really become that weapon that I want to be."

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Ajayi dealt with an All-Pro level receiving back in Arian Foster last year, conceding the starting job at the beginning of the season. But this year it's all up to him. Coach Adam Gase is counting on his "bell cow."

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Just because there isn't a proven competitor aiming for his spot, doesn't mean Ajayi lacks motivation. He is staring down some of the top running backs in the league.

"For me, I always like competition," Ajayi said. "I always like comparing myself. Just because there's not a guy on the team roster that I'm competing with, I really look to everyone else in the league. I don't want to be in the middle or the bottom of the league. I really want to aim for that top spot. It's really looking at myself from last year, looking at everyone else from last year who kicked and really comparing and trying to keep pushing myself to be the best that I can be."

Ajayi finished the season with the fourth-highest rushing total in the NFL, behind Ezekiel Elliott, Jordan Howard and DeMarco Murray. He finished ahead of Le'Veon Bell, LeSean McCoy and David Johnson. Ajayi had fewer receiving yards than any of those backs. His 4.9 yards per carry tied for fourth, but Ajayi led the league with four carries of 40 yards or longer.

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Quarterback Ryan Tannehill said Ajayi started working with him in March after training in California.

"So I've seen him, I think take particular care in his routes and have an effort into each route," Tannehill said Tuesday. "I see him run around and he'll come back and talk to me 'Hey, what did you think about here?' If he doesn't like the way he ran it, he'll run another one. With running backs a lot of times, those things can get overlooked as far as the details of route running and being that weapon; but I think he wants to expand his role in this offense."

Tannehill says he is healthy after partially tearing his ACL last season. He said he will be looking for No. 23 more out of the backfield on passing downs in 2017.

"I think it's a big weapon for us and he's a guy that can do it," Tannehill said. "He catches the ball well. He understands concepts well and so it's something that we look to get him the ball a lot this year out of the backfield."

Gase and the Dolphins finish mandatory minicamp on Thursday.

The theme for this year's offense? Play fast.

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"We just feel like if we can continue to master this offense and play fast, that we have the potential to do great things," said wide receiver Kenny Stills, who led the Dolphins with nine receiving scores in 2016. "We've got good players at every position and we're coming together and we work hard, and so it's an exciting time for us."

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