ATLANTA -- Three hundred seventy-eight days.
That's how long Derrius Guice went between his first and second NFL game, how long the self-proclaimed love of his life was taken away from him. The culprit of his absence was a torn ACL suffered in last season's preseason opener, an injury that weighed on him throughout the rehabilitation process. He was frustrated, disappointed and lost. He struggled seeing his teammates go to battle without him. And for the injury to happen in the first preseason game of his rookie year?
"It was kind of like a slap in the face," Guice said.
But as time passed, Guice saw his injury and subsequent recovery in a more positive light. It served as a humbling and maturing experience, a sign from God for him to slow down and take better care of his body. He gained a newfound appreciation for the sport, knowing it could be stripped away from him in an instant.
Guice expressed all of these emotions in his press conference following the Redskins' 19-7 win over the Atalanta Falcons in Week 3 of the preseason Thursday night.
In his first game action in more than a year, Guice played the entire first half and carried the ball 11 times for 44 yards against the Falcons' first-team defense. The 2018 second-round pick showed power, speed and finesse with the ball in his hands, juking some defenders while trying to run over others. He said he rarely even thought about his knee.
All in all, a healthy Guice showcased the skillset that has the Redskins excited about his potential this fall.
"It was a productive night for him," head coach Jay Gruden said. "It looked like he was decisive on his cuts for the most part. He had some power at times and moved the pile when it wasn’t there. I was impressed just standing on the sideline. I’ll have to go back and watch the film and see what it looks like.”
Guice actually thought he'd play in the team's preseason opener in Cleveland on Aug. 8. After missing OTAs and minicamp with the injury, Guice was a full participant throughout training camp and felt ready to play. It was not until gametime against the Browns that Guice was told he had yet to be cleared for game action.
Waiting for clearance wore on Guice. The days felt as though they were going by slower and slower. "I'm very impatient when it comes to the things that I love," he admitted.
Before the Cincinnati game on Aug. 15, Guice finally received the news he was looking for. His debut would come in Week 3 of the preseason, where he would play with the starters in their final dress rehearsal before the regular season opener in Philadelphia.
"I'm excited for Guice to finally get some time and show the people what he can do," fellow running back Chris Thompson said after practice Sunday. "We know what he can do -- we've been seeing it every single day -- but I feel like he's definitely going to help our offense out a whole lot as well."
Guice received his first carry of 2019 on the Redskins' first offensive play Thursday night. Upon taking the hand-off, 5-foot-11, 225-pound back ran left, made two decisive cuts and rumbled down the field for a seven-yard gain. He then popped back up to his feet and returned to the huddle. Next play, Guice thought to himself. He anxiously awaited the coaches' directions.
The Redskins went back to Guice two plays later for perhaps his most impressive rush of the game. He displayed patience by allowing the offensive linemen to pull around the left side, vision by bouncing the play outside and tenacity by issuing a nasty stiff arm to a pursuing corner.
Just as he reached the sideline, he cut back and lowered his shoulder into safety Keanu Neal, who Guice competed against when he played at LSU and Neal played at Florida. Guice seldom worries about getting hit. He seeks to initiate the contact, and that six-yard run was a prime example.
"Safeties, they get big eyes when they see running backs on the sidelines," Guice said. "They feel like it's an open shot for them, but not me. I'm ready, so I put that shoulder down on him. It felt like a college run for me for sure."
Guice's longest gain occurred on the Redskins' fourth series midway through the second quarter. He used a jump cut to find a sliver in the defense and then burst through the hole for a 12-yard gain.
Some were surprised Guice was still playing considering it was his first game back, but afterwards Gruden harped on wanting to get his young running back "quite a few touches" to establish some sort of rhythm. After all, Guice would be suiting up for his NFL regular season debut in two-and-a-half weeks. Gruden wanted to see Guice handle hits and tackles, find running lanes, protect the football and catch passes out of the backfield.
Guice's bruising run kick-started an 11-play, 71-yard drive during which the Redskins moved all the way down to the one-yard line following a pass interference. But on the next two plays, the Falcons defense stuffed Guice short of the end zone. And while Guice did score on third down -- leaping over the pile and across the goal line -- a holding penalty negated the touchdown. The Redskins ended up settling for a 29-yard field goal.
When addressing the sequence afterwards, Guice's bubbly demeanor suddenly turned into frustration. "I have to get in," Guice admitted. "There's no excuse there."
Fortunately for Guice, he'll be able to dissect the film of those carries, as well as the his other offensive snaps throughout the first half. He'll gain a deeper understanding of where he excelled and where he faltered, allowing him to make the necessary adjustments. His coaches will do the same.
It's a luxury neither him nor the Redskins have had in 378 days.
"It was a much-needed day for me," Guice said Thursday night. "Today was all about getting my feet back under me and building that confidence up and getting back to football."