The obvious questions, now that Jay Ajayi is a Philadelphia Eagle and part of a very crowded running backs room ahead of a critical game against the visiting Denver Broncos on Sunday are these: How quickly can the Eagles get Ajayi ready to play and what will his role be once he's ready? Very logical. So let's examine that and the landscape that Ajayi is now part of with the Eagles.
LEARNING THE SYSTEM
The concepts of the Eagles' running game won't be all that much different from what Ajayi knew in Miami and, let's face it, there are only so many ways to run the football in this great game. What Ajayi needs to learn is the terminology of the offense, which means he needs to know the play calls, the protections, and the audibles used by quarterback Carson Wentz at the line of scrimmage. Not until the Eagles are comfortable with Ajayi's understanding of that – and they will only feed him bits and pieces early from the specifics of that week's playbook, meaning the Eagles could very well give Ajayi only a sequence of packages to cut down on the volume that he'll need to know.
The other part of learning the system is getting the timing down with Wentz in their exchanges and gaining some familiarity with the offensive linemen and their tendencies.
Will Ajayi play this week? It all depends on how quickly he digests what running backs coach Duce Staley is teaching in the classroom and how Ajayi takes those X's and O's and the intellectual part of the game and applies it all on the practice field.
To give you an idea of how quickly it can be done, Adrian Peterson was traded from New Orleans to Arizona on a Tuesday and then went out and gained 134 yards and scored two touchdowns five days later. This isn't to say Ajayi is going to be the featured running back in any way against Denver, but it shows how quickly a running back can assimilate into an offense. Of course, Peterson has been in the league since 2007. Ajayi is in his third NFL season.
There is going to be a learning curve. How long remains to be seen. That's why there really are no answers right now.
ROLE IN OFFENSE THE REST OF THE SEASON
It's a packed house in the Eagles' running backs room with Ajayi joining LeGarrette Blount, Wendell Smallwood, Corey Clement, and Kenjon Barner on the active roster. The Eagles have dressed four backs on gamedays and it's highly, highly unlikely they can go five deep on Sunday against Denver.
So that means … who would be out?
Again, according to Pederson and, really, logically, it's too early to know. If Ajayi shows that he can play a role in the offense, he would likely be active. If not, the Eagles can keep feeding him the offense and get him ready to go after the bye week when they play at Dallas.
As for the rest of the season, if Ajayi is up to snuff in the offense, he's going to get touches. He may even get a lot of touches. This is a running back who plays with tremendous aggressiveness and who doesn't like to go down. He's going to fight for every yard. He's got speed to take it to the house and he's got power to run between the tackles.
How would the backs' carries be divided? That is up to Staley who, says Pederson, is "the perfect coach for that room" having played in the NFL and understanding the sensitive nature of the egos and the desire for more touches in the offense.
If it works out perfectly, Ajayi is the most complete running back on the roster and he would be a major part of the running game going down the stretch of the season.
WHAT ABOUT 2018 AND BEYOND?
Ajayi is signed through 2018 so if he stays healthy and is productive he will be a leading player in the backfield for '18. Blount signed a one-year contract in the spring and his future here is to be determined. Clement and Smallwood are on their rookie deals. Barner has been a valuable player in the return game and in the offense since replacing Darren Sproles on the roster.
Let's just say the Eagles are excited to see what Ajayi brings to the offense this season. Next year? It's too early to get into any specifics about 2018 with so much at stake in 2017.
HOW WILL AJAYI FIT INTO THE LOCKER ROOM HERE?
Some of the reports citing sources from within the Miami organization weren't very kind to Ajayi on his way out, and Miami head coach Adam Gase called out Ajayi recently in a press conference. The Eagles feel comfortable that they've done all the right homework with respect to Ajayi's personality and his medical history, which includes a 2011 knee surgery that reports from Miami suggest gave the Dolphins pause for concern over Ajayi's long-term health.
The locker room, says Pederson, has welcomed Ajayi into Philadelphia with open arms.
"We're getting a really good person off the football field as well as on," Pederson said. "This is where the leadership of the football team … when I talk about ownership of the team, this is where, when you bring guys in at the midway point of the season, which we've done, this is where they embrace those guys.
"We've established a culture on how we do things around here so I implore those guys to just embrace it, to bring him in. I've had a conversation with him and we've got to be open and honest and say, 'This is how we do things around here.' Welcome him in and get him up to speed."
In a season and a half, Pederson has created a tremendous working relationship with his locker room. There is, without question, trust and understanding of how it works. The players have a leadership group and have open communication with Pederson. The captains of the team take their roles seriously.
At 7-1, everyone obviously sees what could be this year. That helps, too.
Is Ajayi perfect? As Pederson said, Ajayi is just like everyone else. He has a past. He isn't perfect. But he's a "good person" and he's an Eagle and he's here to help the team. More than anything, Ajayi will understand very quickly, the Eagles are here to help Ajayi thrive, too. That's been the key to Pederson's success. The players know he is here for them, to help them play their best football.
And as evidenced by the terrific first half of the season, and the many players having the most productive seasons of their NFL careers, the message from the coaching staff to the players and vice versa is free-flowing, trusting, and collaborative.
Everyone is in it together with this football team, which welcomes Ajayi to the team and expects him to play an important role in continuing a season of success on and off the field.