Redskins.com’s Stephen Czarda answers YOUR questions submitted on Twitter. This week it is a look at the potential breakdown in carries between Rob Kelley, Samaje Perine and the rest of the running backs.
John G. asks: With Perine having a strong showing vs the Packers and Kelley having two weak showings. Could Perine push for more carries? #HailMail
The Redskins are certainly seeking better production from the ground game, as they’ve struggled to pick up yards so far during the first two preseason games.
In total, Washington has carried the ball 40 times for 103 yards (2.5 yards per carry). And off those 103 yards, only 21 have come from the combination of running backs Rob Kelley and Chris Thompson, who have worked exclusively with the starting unit.
“You know, we’re a work in progress, no question about it,” said Redskins head coach after the game against the Green Bay Packers. “We’re building something and we’ve got to do some things and quite frankly we didn’t get them done [on Saturday], but I’m not going to give up on it by any stretch of imagination.
“We’ve just got to continue with our plan and build on what we’ve done, or haven’t done, learn from it, move on and get ready for the Bengals and try to figure out a new plan.”
In his two preseason appearances to date, Kelley has carried the ball 12 times for 11 yards, with his longest being a four-yard gain.
“Every night isn’t going to be your night,” Kelley admitted after the Packers game. “Some days we’ll go out and everything will click the way we want, some days not. We’ve just got to be a teammate and work through it.”
Despite some of the early preseason struggles, the Redskins not only remain committed to the running game but Kelley being the No. 1 back, too.
That’s not to say Perine won’t be a contributor this season. Washington drafted him in the fourth round of the 2017 NFL Draft for a reason: he is Oklahoma’s all-time leading rusher and has a build that can withstand contact.
But Kelley came into his second year leaner and with an entire offseason working with the starting offense. He lost around five pounds but gained some muscle mass due to a changed diet in which he cooked for himself more and went to fast food restaurants less.
“I’ve seen a lot of progress from Rob. Confidence, number one, and knowledge of the system,” Gruden said. “He’s done a nice job, really. I think he only had a couple carries [against the Ravens], didn’t get a very good look either carry and he had one catch. But watching him out here, I think he’s got great vision and he’s got [a] very low center of gravity, he’s hard to bring down with the first guy. I haven’t really seen the first guy bring him down very often, which is good. I like where he’s at. He’s another one of those second-year guys that has really improved.”
Back to Perine for a minute, though, as the coaches see potential in him as well.
Shortly after the Redskins drafted Perine in April, Gruden said that the running back split during game days would include the 21-year-old getting his share of carries. Offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh also noted that Washington will ride the “hot hand” at running back.
“Rob obviously has earned the starting job, and I think really it’s a game-to-game evaluation, an in-game evaluation of how well he’s doing and how winded he is – ‘Does he need a blow?’” Cavanaugh said during the offseason. “We just feel like we’ve got depth at that position now with a lot of similar-type players: stocky, quick-footed, strong, smart guys that can sub in for each other.”
Perine showed clear improvement from his first preseason game to the second, tallying 45 yards on the ground along with a 29-yard reception against the Packers.
He also did not fumble after coughing up the ball once against the Ravens (a ball he would recover).
“I just felt more comfortable,” Perine said. “You know, being the first game last week, I had to get my first game jitters out. Now I’m just continuing to build and get more comfortable within the system and just continue doing whatever I have to do.”
And don’t forget Thompson as well, who is coming off a career-high 356 rushing yards in 2016.
Gruden believes Thompson is one of the best third down backs in the NFL today, but his role could extend past what he carried last season.
“He was really a third down back for us but he did get some carries in critical times. First, second down, there is some feature plays we like for him in the backfield,” Gruden said.