When Derrius Guice caught a screen pass in the fourth quarter Sunday against the New York Jets, he was not focused on reading his teammates' blocks or making defenders miss. And he could not even begin to think about trying to score his first career NFL touchdown.
In that moment, all Guice was focused on was getting his head turned around to avoid getting "decleated." It wasn't until he looked upfield that he saw an opportunity for a big play.
"I had good separation with my guards and my blockers, man, and it was daylight. It was off to the races."
Using blocks from guard Brandon Scherff and wide receiver Trey Quinn, Guice bounced outside and used his speed to outrun everyone down the right sideline. With one defender to beat, Guice instantly slowed himself down to let the safety fly by him. He then crossed the goal line for a 45-yard score, a memorable moment in a forgettable defeat.
"I wasn't really thinking about it. I was just thinking about trying to catch up and win," Guice said after the Redskins' 34-17 defeat. "It was a lot of emotions going through my head at the time, but I knew I had to put it all aside because we were losing."
Despite the final score, Guice garnered attention for his individual effort Sunday. In his first game action in more than two months, Guice showed flashes of why the Redskins selected him in the second round of the 2018 NFL draft and pegged him as the featured back this preseason. In limited action, Guice carried the ball seven times for 24 yards to go along with the lengthy receiving score.
"I felt really proud of Derrius and everything he's had to overcome and all of the adversity he's had in his career," said rookie quarterback Dwayne Haskins, whose throw to Guice doubled as his first-career touchdown pass. "That's my brother. For him to rely on me, for me to rely on him, and for us to make plays for each other, it meant a lot of for me."
It's been an arduous road for Guice since joining the Redskins 18 months ago. A standout summer put Guice in position to be the team's No. 1 running back as a rookie, but a torn ACL in the preseason opener robbed him of his first NFL campaign.
Nearly a year later, Guice returned to the practice fields for training camp as bubbly and charismatic as ever, joking with reporters and speaking confidently about his health. He saw his first game action in Week 3 of the preseason, where he reasserted himself as a potential workhorse in the backfield. By preseason's end, he topped the depth chart.
But then came another injury -- this time a torn meniscus in the season opener against the Philadelphia Eagles -- and another stint on Injured Reserve, where he spent the next eight weeks before being activated Nov. 7.
Ten days later, Guice finally suited up for his home debut more than a year in the making.
“It’s going to be exciting,” Adrian Peterson said about him and Guice both being active before the Jets game. "Just having a guy when you come out, you can relax and know [he’s] going to get the job done. It’s going to be interesting to see how things go.”
While Guice did not receive his first carry until midway through the second quarter, he immediately reminded Redskins fans what they had to look forward to. Guice took the pitch from Haskins on a speed option to the left, sharply cut upfield, deked a defender in the hole and carried another for a nine-yard gain. On another play in the third quarter, Guice received a hand-off right and bulldozed 6-foot-2, 234-pound middle linebacker Neville Hewitt to pick up six yards on first down.
In just two sequences, Guice previewed his diverse skill set.
All in all, Guice received eight touches for 70 yards and a touchdown and played 20 of the 68 offensive snaps (29%). To compare, Peterson had 11 touches for 30 yards on 17 snaps (25%), while running back Wendell Smallwood made one catch on three targets with 31 snaps (46%).
"There was a good rotation," interim head coach Bill Callahan said after the game. "Sometimes some players get featured better with the selection and others don’t, not that the plays are better for one or the other. We felt that the concept was good for Adrian [Peterson] and they defended them well, and some of the plays that [Derrius] Guice had lent itself a little bit more opportunity. So, there’s a little bit of a give and take in that one play is better than the other. It could have worked out either way.”
It remains to be seen how Guice will be used the rest of this season, but his explosiveness and likeability is undeniable.
Take his touchdown during Sunday's game for example; it was the Redskins' first since Week 6 in Miami on Oct. 13. Though the game was already out of reach, the excitement at FedExField was palpable from the fans to the players and for Guice himself. Haskins even told Guice to keep the game ball, knowing he deserved it for all he's been through during his short NFL career.
"I know that we have some bright spots," Haskins said, "and Derrius is one of them."