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Jonas Gray has been one of the standouts on offense for the Dolphins in the first two preseason games, and perhaps the biggest reason is the power he has shown.
From where Gray sits, though, he hasn’t shown enough power. Not nearly enough.
“I think I did some good things, (there’s) some stuff to build off on,” Gray said after practice Sunday. “I’m miles and miles away from being a great running back in the NFL. I know the one thing I’m very good at is running with power, and I’ve got do that way more. I’m doing that now here and there in spotty situations, still trying to feel my way into the offense, still trying to read and play a little bit offense, but I’ve got to play with faster play speed and a ton more physical.”
Five days after leading the Dolphins with 41 yards rushing and adding four receptions, Gray scored two rushing touchdowns Friday night in the 27-3 victory against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
It’s been quite the preseason debut for a running back who didn’t play a down in 2012 -preseason or regular season - while he continued to work his way back after sustaining a torn ACL in November 2011 while a senior at the University of Notre Dame.
“Jonas has been a pleasant surprise,” running backs coach Jeff Nixon said. “He’s done really well, especially coming off the knee injury he had his senior year at Notre Dame. He’s just making plays. He’s making plays in both the pass game and the running game. He really feels comfortable with our offense. I just expect a lot more big things from him this preseason. He’s playing well right now.”
Gray first started getting noticed in the team’s intrasquad scrimmage when he scored a touchdown on a short run, and he hasn’t really stopped.
He needs those kinds of performances to stand out in a group of running backs that includes three young players who were drafted -
What Gray has over the other Dolphins running backs is his power. That’s not to say Miller, Thomas, Gillislee and Thigpen can’t break tackles, it’s just that power might be Gray’s calling card.
At 5 feet 9, 230 pounds, Gray certainly has the stature to play a physical game.
“He is playing physical,” Nixon said. “He’s 230 pounds and, you can see him, he’s slapped together. He’s a kid that’s strong in the weight room, does a nice job with his conditioning. He can be a complete, all-around back. He has quick feet, good vision and he’s strong in protection. He ran well in the short-yardage goal-line situations. He can be a three-down back. He’s just got to keep improving and making plays this preseason.”
Gray showed some niftiniess as well this preseason when he broke a 29-yard run against Dallas.
But he just might prefer punishing defenders and using his power, something that makes him an ideal short-yardage and goal-line back.
“I think that’s what separates me from a lot of the guys and I think that’s what the team needs,” Gray said. “I think that’s what my role would be and that’s what we’ve talked about. I know if I’m doing that, I’m at my best. That’s why I sit there and watch so much Adrian Peterson because the guy runs angry and I think I can be at that level, a runner with that type of power and that type of aggressiveness.”
And, in case you’re wondering, Gray says he also runs angry.
“Got a chip on my shoulder,” Gray said. “Been out for a long time. A lot of critics and a lot of people said I wouldn’t come back. A lot of people said when I came back I wouldn’t be the same player. A lot of people said when I was healthy I wasn’t as good. But I have a chip on my shoulder, blessed to be here, playing for a guy that I love to play for in Coach (Joe) Philbin, who gave me an opportunity when most people wouldn’t. I’m just blessed and working hard.”
The Dolphins never got to see Gray in action last season. They signed him after the 2012 draft knowing full well he likely wasn’t going to be able to help out as a rookie.
Gray began the season on the PUP/Non-Football Injury list (it was NFI because the injury happened before he joined the Dolphins) and was able to practice only a few weeks after he became eligible for a short window. When it came time to decide whether to activate Gray or shelve him for the rest of the season, the Dolphins decided the latter.
What the Dolphins did know was that Gray had ability, something he had shown at Notre Dame while recording 791 yards rushing, 12 touchdowns and a tremendous 6.9-yard average.
“I was excited about him coming out,” Nixon said. “His senior year he actually had like the best percentage of plus-10 runs during his senior year. Without a doubt, I feel he would have been a draft pick if not for his knee injury. I expected him to play well and he’s kind of lived up to those expectations.
“He’s still learning the offense. Some of the stuff is still new to him, but he’s picked it up well. He studies in the classroom, very smart guy, conscientious. He knows our playbook. He’s just continued to improve every single week. He’s got his opportunity in games, has played well.”
Gray’s performance so far this summer has been impressive, perhaps even surprising.
Just don’t think for a second he’s satisfied.
“I take it week by week,” Gray said. “I don’t really worry about what I did in the past two weeks. I try to stay on an upper trend, that I do, but I know each week is a new week and, from being in the NFL a year, I’ve seen guys who’ve had good preseason games and not make the team. You’ve just got to go out there. You’ve got to pretty much forget what you did the week before and come out and do whatever you can to help the team win.
“I definitely see myself on an upward trend. I see myself like the team. We’re miles and miles away from being a great team and I’m miles and miles away from being a great NFL running back. I’ve got to start running with a lot more power and that’s when I’ll be satisfied. When I’m running with a lot more power, a lot angrier, I think the coaches will be more satisfied, too.”