Randy Jordan knows something about scary, season-ending injuries.
When he was entering his junior year at North Carolina, Jordan remembers a spring practice that finished with the Oklahoma drill, a 1-on-1 matchup between a ball carrier and tackler in a confined space. As Jordan recalls, a freshman running back, Natrone Means, had just schooled linebacker Tommy Thigpen, one of the Tar Heels' premier players.
"Natrone runs him over, and everyone is like, 'Oh, man,' so now it's my turn," Jordan says. "And I was like 'Man, Natrone get back up here,' I didn't want to go up there. So Tommy jumps back up there and goes, 'I'm going to go at him again,' so unfortunately I'm next, so [Thigpen] took it out on me."
Thigpen hit Jordan underneath his shoulder pad, snapping back Jordan's neck and separating the nerve that ran from his right shoulder down through his arm.
"I lost all my feeling up to my shoulder, and you know, I did rehab and all that stuff and they said I would never play again," Jordan said. "I said 'Whatever, ok,' and I came back. I had pain in my arm and I had to wear a kind of pad, a shoulder pad. So long story short, I ended up finishing up college and playing nine years in the NFL, and was very productive I feel like. The rest is history.
"It was one of things where people say you have defining moments in your life," he adds, "and that was one of my defining moments."
It's fair to say Redskins running back Derrius Guice faced a similar type of defining moment in the team's first preseason game, when he tore his ACL against the Patriots and, like his running backs coach, missed the entire season.
The injury hit Jordan emotionally.
"It took me a while to get over it," Jordan says. "You know I had plans for him, just like he had plans for himself."
For the last two months, Guice has been at Redskins Park slowly building back his strength and working out at the Indoor Training Facility. Jordan has been impressed with what he's seen as well as his attitude in the building.
"He's putting in the work," says Jordan inside his office, which doubles as the running backs room. "I see him coming and in and rehabbing, and you know you see his workouts on Twitter and social media and I told him, and I challenged him, and I said 'Hey, look man you have these guys like [Saquon] Barkley, and [Alvin] Kamara, [Christian] McCaffrey, and so forth and so on, you know study their game.' That's what we do, we go and study other people's games. I'm looking at Ezekiel [Elliot] right now and I want guys for next year when the season is over for other coaches to look at their tape. They look at your tape and go, 'Man this guy Guice man, he's all about boom boom boom.' So you know, I put that challenge out to him and I think he'll accept it."
Jordan didn't need to do all the mentoring. During the season, he knew Guice could also lean on Adrian Peterson and Chris Thompson, two players who have gone through their own share of injuries.
In the case of Peterson, Jordan still gets giddy talking about the opportunity to coach him this past year.
"Oh man he was amazing," Jordan said. "He would sit right in that corner [pointing towards the door], didn't say a whole lot, didn't ask a lot of questions, he's old school, he didn't want to use his iPad, he wanted paper. He wanted to be able to write on it, so he could visualize it, see it. And I appreciated it because I'm old school, I right everything down. He didn't really give out a lot of advice, he only gave it out when it as warranted. But he led by example. From Day 1, when I said 'finish,' he did it on his own, so you know he led more by example and as the season went on with everything going on he became more vocal, not only here but with the team, too."
Occasionally, Jordan would have to pinch himself. It's not every day you get to coach a first-ballot Hall of Fame running back. In one instance during the fall, Jordan remembers how a discussion about pass protection became too distracting.
"I'm sitting there talking to him about two or three different protections, talking about the run game, and I'm kind of cramming a lot of stuff in," Jordan says. "You know when you get that voice in your head? He's staring right through me, so intense, and I'm thinking 'Dang, you're up here coaching Adrian Peterson,' and I would have those moments. He's such an intense person. I had to get used to his stare. It's intimidating, like when he locks in on you, it's like he can see right through the back of your head. So, I had to kind of get used to that, but it was kind of one of those things where someone is staring at you and it's almost like a staring contest.
His handshake? "I wasn't quite ready for that," he says. "I felt that."
Should the Redskins bring back Peterson to the team, a three-headed monster of Peterson, Guice and Thompson has certainly crossed Jordan's mind. Could Peterson and Guice work as a power tandem? Jordan has seen two "Alpha-males," as he calls them, function together well before.
"You look at Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram, those two guys are great backs. But its unlimited what you can do when you have two guys like that, two really good athletes, two guys that can really feed off of each other," Jordan says. "You can take care of each other's bodies, too. One minute you're tackling a guy who's 225, and the next minute you get a guy a little smaller, not too much smaller, but a little bit quicker, a little bit faster, he's got a different skillset. Then you bring in Chris Thompson, and then they have to go cover that guy out in space. You line Chris Thompson out at receiver for fly sweeps and screens and all those things. Yes, they can work together."
At this time last year, the Redskins were planning on Rob Kelley to carry the load again in 2018. Then Guice slipped into the second round, then he went to Injured Reserve, then the team brought in Adrian Peterson, who rushed for 1,000 yards. The next few months are anything but a sure thing, but Jordan is ready to guide his group, whoever it might consist of, through it.
"I always tell myself everyday just to be moldable and adaptable, and you just never know in this business, and the second you think you know, you have no clue," Jordan says. The one thing that I think God has really given me is perspective for these guys. I have tremendous perspective, I've been there, I know what you're going through. I can relate."