This weekend became an emotional roller coaster for the running backs group, especially for Chris Thompson.
As the fifth-year running back heard the news that his “little brother," rookie running back Derrius Guice, was ruled out for the 2018 season due to a torn ACL suffered against the Patriots on Thursday, he had trouble fighting back tears Saturday as he walked off the field at the Bon Secours Washignton Redskins Training Center.
Guice had changed the chemistry and the culture in the room, filling it with energy and excitement, while giving the offense a lift with his athleticism. The LSU product had put a heavy load on his shoulders for the group during offseason workouts and training camp, but was ready for the challenge of his rookie season.
That will now have to wait until next year, a fact that the running backs room is still digesting a day after hearing the news.
"To just see him go down before the season even got started, before he can even get a taste of how it feels, he was already down. It’s just tough," Thompson said, in the midst of tears. "I just hate to see any of my boys go down like that. I’m going to stay with him, and make sure I help him keep his spirits up and try to be the guy he’s always been. The guy that y’all have seen every day, but like I said, yesterday was like the first time I saw him and I felt him faking the happiness. That’s not something I want to see out of my guys.”
It's particularly devastating considering how close this running backs group has become over the last couple of years, even in its short time with Guice in the fold.
“Dan [Snyder], Bruce [Allen], Doug [Williams], Jay [and] coach [Randy] Jordan, they all somehow find a way to put some great guys in our room, in that running back room," Thompson said. "I’m going to be honest, this is my first time ever shedding tears for a player. Our group, we’ve come so close to each other in such a short period of time and just to see one of the guys going down and I guess because I’m the older guy in the room now it hurts even more because I feel like that’s my little brother. That’s my dude, I’ve got to do everything to help all of those guys grow and just to see him go down is just a terrible feeling.”
Despite Guice being unavailable for the regular season, the Redskins still have one of the deepest rushing groups in the NFL. Head coach Jay Gruden stated before Saturday’s practice that the rushing situation could come down to the running backs working together instead of as individuals.
“We drafted Derrius because he's the best player, we thought, at the time of the draft,” Gruden said. “We thought he could really help our football team not because we weren't satisfied with the backs we had. We thought he would be a heck of a player for us. So, with Rob [Kelley] and Samaje [Perine], and what Byron [Marshall] did the other night, the flashes he showed off and obviously Chris Thompson, Kapri Bibbs had a couple big hits. I think we are pretty good at the running back spot."
Thursday’s preseason game saw all five running backs get at least two carries, with Bibbs showing the most energy with a 41-yard gain in the fourth quarter. When the running backs group suffered a series of injuries last season, it was a rookie who picked up the load to lead the team in rushing. Perine competed in all 16 games, rushing for 603 yards.
He will have a chance to build off a solid rookie season, while third-year running back Rob Kelley can set himself up for his best campaign after shedding 10 pounds during the offseason.
“Rob and Samaje and those guys -- these guys are pros and they have worked extremely hard and they are battling for the starting spot," Gruden said. "Even when we drafted Derrius, nobody had given anybody a starting spot yet. You know, we're all competing and that will never change. They are competitive guys, they want to be great and Randy [Jordan, Running Backs Coach] is going to coach them up and then I'll decide who the guys are on game day."
During Saturday’s practice, all of the running backs immediately hit the ground running with the first team. Marshall and Perine added some first team reps, making the most of their opportunities by going for a few deep runs. Bibbs also earned a few reps while getting additional time with the special teams.
Once the severity of Guice’s injury was found out, the group met about what had to take place going forward. The running backs are ready to tackle the challenge of getting rushing yards together, not as a one-man show.
“We already talked about Guice in situations and everybody feels a certain type of way about that,” Kelley said. “Just go out there and compete man, and try to pick up where we left off, and show him that we still got his back.”