Dolphins' Drake brings right mindset to build on 2017 finish

Credit: Al Diaz

Credit: Al Diaz

You know what? Everyone was wrong about why they feel so good about Kenyan Drake. There's no other way to say it. And, oddly enough, you'll feel better about being wrong, too.

Let Drake tell it, though. Because ever since the season ended, the floated statistic about what he brings the Dolphins is how he rushed for more yards over the final five games than any NFL running back.

"People always use that, 'I had the most rushing yards ... ,' " Drake said.

It's true. You can look it up. Those 444 yards salvaged some hope from a season without enough of it. But here's the really telling part: Drake isn't buying that statistic. He has good reason, too.

"Todd (Gurley) didn't play the last game," he said of the Rams running back. "He didn't need to since they were in the playoffs."

Kansas City's Kareem Hunt didn't play that last game, either, Drake notes. Nor did Pittsburgh's Le'Veon Bell, if we're keeping score. And, well, wasn't everyone keeping score by saluting Drake's rushing total?

"I'd pat myself on the back, but it was by default," he said of that year-end rushing stat.

There are two overriding points here. One: Drake really has some work to do on his ego act. He's the man now, right? He could have puffed his chest, unleashed some personality and simply said he was so proud of what's a manufactured statistic, anyway, involving those final five games, if he'd wanted.

Point No. 2: Don't you feel better that about Drake that he called everyone out on that stat?

On Tuesday, Drake said his rookie season two years ago was a, "big learning experience, because at the end of the day I wasn't mentally prepared to handle the work load." He said last year was another kind of education, "from waking up one morning and realizing you traded your starting running back so you're going to get a lot more bulk of the carries."

He then learned he could do what he thought he could all along. He could handle the load, at least over five games, which is different than over a full season. But that confidence is something players need.

Guard Jesse Davis said his first start last year against Baltimore erased the self-doubt of whether he was good enough to play at this level. In some form, Drake was also buoyed by his performance in the aftermath of Jay Ajayi's midseason trade to Philadelphia.

That's good, because the Dolphins need Drake to be a sure thing this year. They're counting on so many young-ish uncertainties — DeVante Parker, Laremy Tunsil, Charles Harris — that they can't have Drake take a step backward. He sees his football education progressing.

"I'm the longest tenured running back on the team," Drake said. "You think, two years ago, I came here as a fresh face to this. Funny how time flies."

That's sports. Last May, Ajayi seemed like the most irreplaceable Dolphin. Now Drake seems a better option. But then, one year's disappointments lead to next years' hopes.

"We lost a bit of fire," cornerback Bobby McCain said Tuesday of the defense. "That won't happen again."

"We're all playing for one another, we're all rooting for one another," safety T.J. McDonald said of the revamped "culture."

It's May. Every team is happy. We'll see where it goes. But one thing the Dolphins don't have to worry about is Drake getting too caught up in the way he finished the season. He'll point out the numbers don't really add up.

Besides, if it's numbers he wants to be impressed by, Frank Gore works with him every day now. Gore is 35. He ranks fifth in all-time rushing yards. He's 75 yards from Curtis Martin in fourth place. He'll be a first-ballot Hall of Famer when the time comes.

"He works out like he's a first-year, second-year guy," Drake said.

Drake is a third-year guy. He sounds ready to be the guy, too. We'll see if he can over a full season soon enough. But one thing you don't have to worry about is him flexing his ego and over-valuating his five good games from last year.

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