If there were any lingering concerns, you couldn’t tell by what happened on the practice field. Jonas Gray seems to be cutting effortlessly on that rehabilitated knee. Thus far, through OTA’s and mini-camp, he’s shown no ill effects, working his way into the discussion in what currently is a crowded Dolphins backfield.
So, with that in mind, Gray is looking for any way to get on the field and solidify his spot on what will be whittled down to a 53-man roster right after Training Camp, not balking at the opportunity to contribute on special teams.
It’s an outside-in approach: prove yourself valuable in all facets of the game, earn trust, and then, perhaps, get some more time in the backfield.
“My role, definitely, 100 percent, is to be the best player I can on special teams, help wherever I’m needed at the running back position,” Gray said. “But then also I’m competing for the starting spot. That’s how everybody’s mode should be in the entire running back room.
“If you make yourself an asset on special teams, and you do what you need to do at the running back position and you play as a starter, you put yourself in a good position to make the team.”
It’s a path that could end up mirroring the one he took in college at Notre Dame. A blue-chip prospect out of Pontiac, Mich., Gray suffered a less-serious knee injury – prior to the injury that ended his college career – that knocked him out of the running back rotation during his junior season. Undeterred, he emerged a team leader, playing special teams, lending a hand where he could for the Fighting Irish.
By the time his senior season started, though, he had reacquired a prime spot in the backfield, ready for a big year.
Earning a starting spot midseason, Gray put the power into a surprisingly effective rushing attack, racking up 791 yards and 12 touchdowns through 11 games.
The quick rise came to an even quicker end, though. Gray couldn’t complete his breakout season without heartbreak, suffering the knee injury against Boston College in November of 2011 that would keep him sidelined for the next year.
It was of a flood of emotions, then, when Gray signed with the Dolphins as an undrafted free agent last year but was unable to practice in full – close enough to get a taste but still insulated from most of the action.
“Going through the whole process was difficult, but definitely once I got around football it was difficult. Once I was able to practice for a few weeks it was difficult for me. I’m just glad to be back out there. A new year, a new beginning, a new start – I’m excited.”
Gray enters the fray in a unique spot but with some valuable experience in South Florida.
He spent a year with the coaching staff, with the complex playbook, nothing to dismiss for a player fighting for a spot with a handful of unproven players. That he received a commitment from the team last season is a big motivator. Remember it as validation of your ability and your work, but do not let it allow you to become complacent; someone else has an eye on your spot.
“It gave me confidence,” Gray said. “Each year you have to come in with the same mindset that you have to prove yourself just like you did the year before and that’s what I’m doing. Coming in fresh, feeling like a rookie, feeling like a freshman in college, got to make the bus.”
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