Washington Redskins running backs coach Randy Jordan delivers the same message to his players before every game — a mentality that was the foundation of the team’s offensive success during its 6-3 start last season. “The party don’t start until we walk in,” he says.
The stats back up his point: The team was 6-1 in games last season in which it outrushed its opponent. Whether that’s more a matter of correlation or causation is up for debate — teams get more rushing opportunities when leading or in a close game than when trailing — but there’s little doubt that the Redskins view their best shot at offensive success as starting with the ground game.
The good news for Washington is that running back looks to be a strength of this year’s team. Future Hall of Famer Adrian Peterson is back after surpassing the 1,000-yard plateau for the eighth time in his career. Derrius Guice, a second-round pick last year, is expected to be healthy after tearing his ACL in the first preseason game. Chris Thompson returns as one of the top all-purpose backs in the NFL; he joins Samaje Perine, whom coach Jay Gruden said has earned more opportunities, and the versatile Byron Marshall. Oh, and the team drafted 2017 Heisman Trophy finalist Bryce Love, although he’s still recovering from a torn ACL he suffered Dec. 1.
“If everybody is healthy come August and September, the coaches definitely have a tough job on their hands with what to do with everybody,” Thompson said. “If you look at the lineup, to me, it’s ridiculous.”
There’s only one ball to go around, and the coaching staff will have to figure out how to best utilize the team’s many options while keeping everybody happy. Peterson hasn’t been shy about stating his desire to start, and he said 2,000 rushing yards remains his goal. He said he believes 1,500 would have been attainable last season if the offense hadn’t been rocked by injuries. Guice was the star of last year’s training camp and the organization was ready to feature him before the injury, which is what prompted the Peterson signing. Thompson is a unique weapon who also requires touches.
Jordan explained that it helps that each player brings a slightly different skill set; he predicted a 50-50 or 60-40 split of the carries between Peterson and Guice. The competition was noticeable during organized team activities and minicamp despite Guice being held out of normal practices.
“Those guys get a little upset when all of a sudden a guy gets a couple of reps and they’re looking at me like, ‘Coach, when’s my turn?’ “ Jordan said. “I always tell them this: ‘Listen, it’s a privilege for your number to be called. . . . So when you get that opportunity, make it count.’ Everybody’s going to have a role at one point.”
Over Peterson’s career, he has been the type of player who wears on the defense and gets more effective with more touches, but he’s unlikely to get 17 to 20 carries per game if the other backs remain healthy. Gruden said he believes that Peterson, who at 34 is one of the oldest running backs in the NFL, can have even more of an impact in 2019 with a full year in the offense, and he hopes a lighter workload won’t be a problem. Peterson has been the consummate professional since arriving in Washington, but he isn’t going to concede his carries.
“Of course that’s my mentality, to be that guy,” Peterson said. “That’s what has kept me around going on 13 years now. But at the end of the day, the coaches are the ones that make that decision. . . . That’s all you can ask for is open competition.”