BOCA RATON, Fla. -- Jay Ajayi is working hard this offseason to try to prove he can be the starting running back for the Dolphins. But that doesn't mean he isn't taking some time to relax, which includes going to the movies.
And one film he was excited to see was the recently released Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Now, when I caught up with Ajayi where he was working out with standout NFL trainer Tony Villani at XPE Sports, he didn't know that my cousin is Jesse Eisenberg, who plays Lex Luthor in the movie. We talked about the role, and Ajayi enjoyed the movie after he saw it.
Just watched B.v.S. your boy Lex was the star for me🌟....creeped me out the WHOLE movie & was a straight savage haha!💯👏🏿👏🏿@JameyEisenberg— Jay Ajayi (@JayTrain23) March 28, 2016
It's obviously cool that Ajayi liked my cousin's performance, and Fantasy owners are hoping Ajayi can be a superhero as the Dolphins starter this season. He's trying to replace the departed Lamar Miller, who signed as a free agent with the Texans, but he still has a lot to prove to new coach Adam Gase.
"I'm excited for the opportunity on being the starter right now," Ajayi said. "I'm focused. I'm just preparing myself for the season. Right now I'm just really focused on attacking the offseason workouts and learning the new playbook and new system and proving to the coaches that I can be the guy that they're looking for."
It seems like the Dolphins are looking for more than Ajayi, who played sparingly as a rookie in 2015 as the backup to Miller. After starting the season on short-term injured reserve with broken ribs, Ajayi appeared in nine games and had 49 carries for 187 yards and one touchdown and seven catches for 90 yards.
The Dolphins opted not to pay Miller as much as the Texans (four years for $26 million, including $14 million guaranteed), but they don't appear satisfied with Ajayi as the starter or the depth at tailback with Damien Williams and Jahwan Edwards as backups. Miami offered restricted free agent C.J. Anderson a contract, which Denver matched, and the Dolphins brought in Chris Johnson for a visit before he re-signed as a backup with the Cardinals.
Arian Foster is the next running back the Dolphins are flirting with, but he might not be ready to play coming off last year's torn Achilles. It's also a certainty Miami will draft a running back, and it will be interesting to see what the Dolphins do at No. 13 overall in the first round if Ohio State's Ezekiel Elliott is still on the board.
Elliott would clearly step in as the starter, but if he doesn't land in Miami, Ajayi's path to the starting job will become even more clear. And he could prove to be a surprise in 2016.
Keep in mind that Ajayi was a highly-rated prospect coming out of Boise State last year before he dropped to the fifth round of the NFL Draft due to concerns with the long-term status of his right knee. He said physically he feels great, and Villani said there appears to be nothing wrong with his knee as of now.
"I'm honestly happy because I haven't seen any effects of it while we're training," Villani said. "First thing I'm looking for is he favoring one side of the other. We haven't treated him differently because of his knee. I'm happy about that."
The Dolphins also could be higher on Ajayi then they are letting on. A report in the Miami Herald said former interim coach Dan Campbell wanted to play Ajayi more and Miller less, and the front office could share that sentiment this offseason in letting Miller leave.
Gase also said at the NFL annual meeting that he likes Ajayi, but he just wants to "develop that stable of backs" for depth.
"I feel really comfortable with Jay," Gase said. "I saw a lot of good things on film last year. I'm fired up to get going with him."
Ajayi just wants a chance to prove himself. He said last year didn't go as planned because of the injury, but he has attacked the offseason to come into OTAs and minicamp in great shape.
Villani said he's been at XPE for every session and is working out at least two hours a day. Ajayi said he's "seen a lot of improvement in just my overall speed and my lateral quickness." He also has tried to learn as much as he can about Gase's offense from Bears running back Jeremy Langford, who played for Gase in Chicago last season.
"I've definitely been asking him about coach Gase, and he's had nothing but great reviews on coach Gase and how he likes the offense," Ajayi said. "That's been really exciting for me to hear those things and gear up to get back on the field and get going."
The bottom line for Ajayi will just come down to who he is competing against for touches this season. If he gets the chance to start, he could be a No. 2 Fantasy running back, and prior to the NFL Draft he's someone you should target as early as Round 5. And if he's sharing touches with a retread veteran (someone like Foster or Ronnie Hillman, who is still available) or a second-tier rookie, he could still have plenty of value with a mid- to late-round pick.
For him, it doesn't matter who the Dolphins add. He plans to win the job and be Superman for Miami's backfield in 2016.
"I'm just focused on myself right now," Ajayi said. "I'm preparing myself to have a great season. Whatever happens outside of what I'm doing happens. My mindset is to be the starter and be productive this season. I'm putting in the time and the work and the effort so when the regular season comes I'll be ready to go."