Jay Ajayi brought with him to the NovaCare Complex on Friday a pair of cleats that say, on the back of the left foot, “Jay,” and on the back of the right foot, “Train,” for his workout with the Eagles. Clearly, the old-school cleats from two seasons ago did the trick for Ajayi, who signed a one-year contract with the team late in the afternoon and will be ready for action in Sunday’s game against New England. To make room for him on the roster, Darren Sproles was placed on Injured Reserve.
“It’s a blessing to be back in the NFL and with this team,” said Ajayi, who had previous tryouts with Detroit and Arizona prior to Friday. “Philly is a special place for me, and to come back here is wonderful. I’m looking forward to Sunday and seeing what that brings.”
We last saw Ajayi last season when he suffered a torn left ACL in the loss on October 7 against Minnesota at Lincoln Financial Field. Ajayi joined the Eagles in London later in the month for their game against the Jacksonville Jaguars and then went about the business of rehabbing the injury in Los Angeles.
The long, arduous business of recovering from a serious injury took a turn for the better in the summer and fall and Ajayi started working out for teams in the last month. On Friday, the Eagles liked what they saw enough to sign Ajayi to help what is now an injury-depleted (again) running back position.
And, yes, he’s excited to be an Eagle again and thinks he can jump right back into action on Sunday despite not having had a full practice since October 2018.
“It’s a long process coming back from the injury and there were good days and bad days. You have to accept that,” Ajayi said. “I had a great support system with me, keeping me level-headed the whole time. I’m excited to get back to playing the game that I love.
“For Sunday, I know the playbook. My knowledge is still very high. I know what we’re doing in the RB room. Nothing beats playing football and being in football shape. That’s something I have to get through, and also the contact of the game. But that’s what you train for and build your body up as strong as possible. I guess it’s like riding a bike, and as soon as I start riding, I can pedal really fast.”
The Eagles go into Sunday’s game against the No. 1-ranked defense in the NFL with a healthy Miles Sanders, who is going to get a lot of touches. To be determined is whether Jordan Howard plays after a week of limited practice. Howard is dealing with a shoulder injury. He had not been, as of Friday morning per head coach Doug Pederson, cleared for contact. Boston Scott, bumped up the depth chart with Sproles now on Injured Reserve, should see extensive action.
Here we go again …
Once a position of strength, running back is suddenly a position of, well, what? Youth? Sanders is a rookie. Scott is in his second season. Ajayi is in his fifth season, one day in, that is.
With a critical game coming up on Sunday against New England to begin the seven-game stretch to close out the regular season, the Eagles need a strong running game to win in these late-season months. They’re hurting at wide receiver with DeSean Jackson on IR and Alshon Jeffery out for Sunday's game after missing a week of practice and now the running back position has questions.
“It’s going to be big,” right tackle Lane Johnson said when asked how important it will be to establish the running game on Sunday. “(If we can) establish the run, we can control the clock and limit the possessions they get. Obviously, if we can run, we can open up everything else as far as the passing game and all that.”
Before talking about what is to come – potentially, because we really don’t know at this point – let’s discuss the latest setback for Sproles, who has had a string of injuries the last three seasons. A player who this season moved into fifth place on the league’s all-time list for career all-purpose yards has been frustrated by his inability to stay healthy. For the season, Sproles had 17 carries for 66 yards and six receptions for 24 yards. He averaged 7.8 yards on 11 punt returns.
A three-time Pro Bowl selection since joining the Eagles via trade in 2014, Sproles suffered a season-ending broken arm/torn ACL in 2017, missed 10 games last season with a hamstring injury, and missed three games earlier in the 2019 campaign with a quadriceps injury. Sproles turns 37 years old next June and is in his 15th NFL season.
Meanwhile, the Eagles have a game to win on Sunday. How are the Eagles going to score points?
“It’s a big challenge,” Johnson said. “Other players have to step up. That’s the name of the business, name of the game. We’re going in with who we got.”
And one of the players the Eagles “got” is Ajayi, one of the keys to the Super Bowl LII victory.
“I’m here to contribute as needed and get my mind ready to play,” Ajayi said. “Whatever happens on Sunday, I will take it one step at a time, one play at a time.”