Samaje Perine thought his rookie season went just “all right.” The Redskins running back was the team’s leading rusher, starting eight games and finishing with 603 yards.
But Perine managed only 3.4 yards per carry and rushed for only one touchdown.
“I felt like I did what I could with the situation we were given,” Perine said.
Injuries decimated the Redskins in 2017 — and that was a blessing and a curse for Perine. The long list of banged-up players meant the fourth-rounder’s role was quickly expanded, but at the same time, he was running behind an offensive line that was rarely at 100 percent.
The Redskins weren’t satisfied, drafting Derrius Guice in the second round to shore up their running game. The move indicated the Redskins may have questions about Perine and the rest of the team’s backs, outside of Chris Thompson.
Washington had not used a second-round pick on a running back since 2002.
So where does that leave Perine? Coach Jay Gruden said he expects major strides from the 22-year-old next season.
“It’s a grind, mentally. It’s all-day football, not like college where you only get 20 hours a week, so I think he understands the grind and our system a lot better,” Gruden said. “He’s more comfortable, and we’ll see how much he progresses. Very critical year for a young football player.”
Perine’s best stretch last season came in November, when he rushed for at least 100 yards in back-to-back games. He had 117 yards against the New Orleans Saints, and then four days later, ran for 100 yards against the New York Giants.
But Perine’s production tailed off in the final five weeks. During that span, Perine rushed for just 2.84 yards per attempt. Part of Perine’s dip might have been because of injury, as the running back dealt with a groin, an Achilles and an ankle injury to close the year.
Perine said last year that his problem was being patient in finding the right holes.
The Redskins, meanwhile, drafted Perine for his toughness. At Oklahoma, Perine was the university’s all-time leading rusher with 4,122 yards in three seasons. He was explosive, averaging six yards per carry.
But Perine didn’t display the same burst on the NFL level.
Of the 50 running backs to record at least 85 rushing attempts in 2017, Perine had the fifth-worst yards-per-carry average.
“His rookie year he was kind of thrown into the fire with all the injuries we had going on,” running back Rob Kelley said. “I think he handled it pretty well. But I think we have a little more depth, so I feel like he’ll have enough opportunity to grow into the offense.
“Put more into his game instead of just being thrown into the fire.”
In the offseason, Perine spent his time focusing on “mostly speed stuff.” He said his body fat percentage is better, and as a result, he feels more explosive.
And with a year under his belt, Perine said he feels the game “slowing down.”
“I didn’t think that could happen because Big 12 football is kind of fast-paced, but the NFL is a whole different league,” Perine said. “But just everything (is) slowing down and coming to me quicker. It’s getting there.”
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