Remember way back in July, when the Miami Dolphins signed free agent running back Arian Foster? Many fans were ecstatic that the team was adding a proven star at the running back position, predicting that Foster would lead the team in rushing yards and add a three-down back that would stay on the field in passing situations as well.
As I’ve been wont to say before, whoa there, Nellie, not so fast.
According to Dolphins general manager Chris Grier, it was never the plan to let Foster handle the load. As an 8-year veteran player, coming off an injury-riddled season (in fact Foster had missed 23 of his previous 48 games in the past three years), Foster was signed for a much different role.
“We were looking for a veteran guy that could come in and be a mentor,” said Grier. “When we met with Arian Foster, we spent a lot of time talking to him. We told him, we said, 'You're going to be a 10-carry guy … catch four or five balls a game, but we're going to play these young guys, too.' To his credit, that was the role he was coming in to. He wasn't coming in to be a workhorse again, and he understood that.”
While Foster’s statistics don’t reflect much - 55 yards on 22 carries in four games before suffering a soft tissue injury that led to his retirement a few weeks later – Foster was instrumental as a mentor for the young running backs on the Dolphins roster.
“We were hoping that he could teach them how to be a pro in terms of preparation, studying, and doing everything right,” said Grier. “From that aspect, Arian was great with the guys.”
What wasn’t expected was that Foster would decide that the rehabilitation from his groin and hamstring injuries was more than he was willing to endure at this stage in his career, and he abruptly retired at the end of October.
“When he decided to retire, all the guys - the running backs - were shocked,” recalled Grier. “I think Drake and all those guys were thinking about working out with him in the offseason. So, it became a close room. I think Arian played a big part in helping those guys grow up fast."
And grow they did, as Jay Ajayi, who had taken over the starting role in Week 3, really took off from that point, with a pro bowl-worthy season that included three 200 yard games. Damian Williams played very well in the third down roles, and Kenyan Drake made his mark as well (albeit more as a returner than in the backfield).
As the team heads into the offseason, Foster won’t be around to mentors the young backs, but his work ethic lives on, and Grier notes that Ajayi is now the undisputed and respected ‘veteran’ in the running back room. And with that comes the requisite expectations for the coming season.
“With Jay, the one thing is he wants to be good; he wants to be great. He's young, and he knows the things he can improve on. We're excited for his future. It's on us to make sure we keep surrounding him with good players, and keep upgrading the offensive line, so that we can make sure he becomes a factor for years to come.
"I think he has just scratched the surface of what he can be.”
This story was written by Eldon Jenson. Follow him on Twitter @EJFootball
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