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Washington’s dynamic duo -- the impact of Guice & Thompson

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Could Jay Gruden be thinking about upping the ante on the running game?

NFL: Washington Redskins at Los Angeles Rams Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

I’m so excited!

Gloryhog shared this video in the comments section of the Daily Slop recently, and when I watched it, I got excited!

The most dangerous running back duo in the NFL?

It suddenly occurred to me that the tandem of Derrius Guice and Chris Thompson has the potential to be the most dangerous 2-man set of running backs in the NFL.

Guice has just finished a successful career in the SEC, where he burst through holes, jump-cut, and trucked would-be tacklers in about equal parts.

Texas A&M v LSU Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images

Thompson had the most impressive year of his career last season — one in which fantasy football players around the world suddenly became intimately familiar with his rushing and receiving stats. Thompson is fast and elusive, and gets the vast majority of his yardage on runs after catch. CT was among the league leaders in yards and touchdowns before he suffered a broken bone in an awkward pileup in the latter half of the season. He should return with the same speed and explosiveness in 2018.

Washington Redskins v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Gruden’s offensive design

Conventional wisdom says that Guice will be a traditional ‘bell cow’ back for the Redskins, lining up on most 1st & 2nd down plays, while CT will appear in passing situations — 2nd & long, and most 3rd downs. That’s consistent with Jay Gruden’s history.

But Jay is also known for his offensive schemes that stress defenses by creating multiple attack options for the offense, then daring the defense to try to defend them all. That’s why Jay loves Jordan Reed — and multiple tight end sets with potential pass catchers — so much.

Guice may be exactly the guy that Jay has been looking for to help him implement the run game that he has “gotten away from” so often in his 4-year tenure with Washington. It’s possible that, with the 2nd round pick/1st round talent in the game, Jay won’t forget to call running plays quite so often.

But Jay isn’t just a play caller, he’s a play designer — a talented schemer who knows how to exploit defenses.

Now that he knows he has a new toy to play with in Guice, I wonder if we might see a new running game design this season.

Elijah Wellman

For example, it’s been noted that the team has a fullback on the roster for the first time in a while. Could Jay be thinking about upping the ante on the running game by having a designated blocker in the backfield trained to blow holes open for the new tailback?

The Redskins haven’t had a good pass-catching, rushing and blocking FB on the roster since former Redskins Darrel Young was playing for Washington (between 2010 and 2015).

Upon current coach Jay Gruden’s arrival in 2014, the Redskins’ running game deteriorated. He is known as a guy who likes to pass the ball and that year was his rookie year as the head guy. Every year since his arrival, Gruden has maintained that he has wanted to improve the ground game. But it has yet to take off.

Young was the last fullback to remain on the active roster throughout a season but that may have changed.

Enter Redskins’ undrafted college free agent, fullback Elijah Wellman out of West Virginia.

Wellman, listed at 6-2 and 241 lbs., has played a multitude of positions since he first stepped onto the gridiron. Depending on whatever website one loads on the computer to get his information, he is shown as a linebacker, a tight end and a fullback. The latter position is how he is listed for the Burgundy and gold.

With a new QB in Alex Smith and a very talented new RB in Derrius Guice, Washington perhaps merely did whatever is necessary to improve this part of its offense by bringing a true FB into the fold.

It remains to be seen if Wellman — or any other fullback for that matter — makes the team. But if he or another FB does, [Redskins fans] will be ecstatic.

Chris Thompson, speaking on the radio recently, cranked up my excitement level about the potential use of a fullback by the Redskins in 2018.

“I think that’s the foundation of football right there. When you have a fullback, you’re just pounding the ball. Short yardage, goal line; things like that. That’s what you love. My RB coach always talks about a string of pearls. You just see [tacklers] after they hit him, and he even falls forward for four more yards. You see guys behind him just lay down. I love that.”

LSU v Texas A&M Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

“To get a fullback in here, that means maybe we’ll start getting into some more I-Formation stuff and just pound the rock, because Jay has always wanted to do that from Day 1.”

Dynamic duo

But, if Jay is planning to stress the defense, why stop at the use of a fullback? What would it do to defenses, for example, if Jay designs plays that put Guice and Thompson on the field together? I realize that two-back sets haven’t really been Gruden’s thing, but what happens if it’s 3rd & 4, and the Redskins come out in a pistol formation with Jordan Reed and Vernon Davis, Richardson or Doctson lined up on the hash marks, Guice lined up beside the athletic Alex Smith at quarterback, and Thompson in motion out of the slot position? Talk about stressing a defense!

Derrius Guice played with Leonard Fournette at LSU, and the offense didn’t miss a beat when he took over as the lead back after Fournette took his act to the NFL. In any draft that didn’t include Saquon Barkley and last minute character concerns — not due to issues with drug use or violence against women, but because of his ‘addiction’ to video games — Derrius Guice would likely have been the first running back off the board.

Missouri v LSU Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Queue the big angry running back with speed, shifty moves and devastating power, and add a great big chip on his shoulder, and you’ll have one of the most dangerous runners in football setting out to prove that he’s not the third-best back in the NFC East. That should be good for the Washington Redskins.

What other teams boast comparably great backfield tandems?

  • Cleveland now has Carlos Hyde and Nick Chubb (with Duke Johnson a pretty impressive guy at #3 on the depth chart)
  • Jacksonville, of course, has Leonard Fournette and TJ Yeldon
  • Tennessee looks pretty impressive with Derrick Henry and Dion Lewis
  • Dallas has Zeke Elliott and Rod Smith
  • The Giants now have Saquon Barkley and Jonathan Stewart
  • The Eagles, Jay Ajayi plus Sproles/Smallwood (the fact that I’m not sure which guy will be the 3rd down back probably speaks volumes)
  • Chicago has a young backfield with Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen
  • Atlanta has two legitimate backfield threats in Davonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman
  • New Orleans can’t be overlooked with Alvin Kamara, but we already know that Mark Ingram will be suspended for the first 4 games

Some NFL teams have one great back who can do it all — the Cardinals with David Johnson spring to mind — but when I ask myself about teams with a one-two-punch in the form of two impact running backs, I feel really good about what I see on the Redskins roster with Guice & Thompson.

To be honest, the only pair of runners in the NFL that I would trade for No. 25 and No. 29 would be Atlanta’s tandem, Freeman and Coleman, whom I think have to be ranked #1. For my money, outside of the Falcons backfield, the Redskins look to have the most dangerous pair of running backs in the NFL in 2018.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Washington Redskins Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Great expectations

Personally, I’m looking for a different Redskins team in 2018.

Defense - I’m not being cautious here. I’m not expecting that the Redskins manage to field a middle-of-the-pack defense in 2018, hoping it will be ‘good enough’ to add a couple of wins to the team’s 2017 record. I want to see a defensive bully in burgundy & gold. I think that the team has the coaching staff and the players needed to deliver.

I’m seeing a team that is suddenly pretty strong up the middle, with Swearinger/Nicholson at Safety, Brown/Foster at ILB, and a powerful interior defensive line that boasts back-to-back first round picks to stuff the run and bring interior pressure on passing downs. A healthy Josh Norman should return to dominance, while the firm of Kerrigan, Smith & McPhee lead another 40-sack season for the ‘Skins. This looks like a top-10 defense to me, and I expect Washington to hold opponents to 20 ppg this season.

Turnovers - I loved Kirk Cousins when he was in Washington, but the guy had the annoying habit of giving the ball to the other team far too often, and at truly inopportune times. He fumbled too much and he threw the ball to the other team too frequently. Alex Smith has a 13-year history of good ball security. I’m looking for the Redskins to have a favorable turnover differential for the first time in a long time this season.

The running game - I haven’t felt good about the running game since 2013. That’s all changed now. I believe that we’re gonna see — not just a new running back on the field — but new play design and a renewed commitment to running the ball creatively and successfully.

I’m not expecting the Redskins to lead the league in rushing.

I’m expecting the Redskins to have more effective running plays, then to exploit the defense when they load the box. I’m expecting the presence of Derrius Guice to create opportunities for Jordan Reed and Jamison Crowder in particular, but the pass game generally, and — yes — even Chris Thompson, as outlined above. I’m expecting the most balanced offense yet from Jay Gruden, featuring ball control and averaging 25 or 26 points per game.

In short, I’m expecting a winning season.

Defense. Running attack. Low turnovers.

Winning football.

Poll

Which team has the best two-back combination in the NFL in 2018?

This poll is closed

  • 38%
    Redskins
    (319 votes)
  • 29%
    Falcons
    (248 votes)
  • 0%
    Browns
    (7 votes)
  • 3%
    Jags
    (25 votes)
  • 3%
    another NFC East team
    (27 votes)
  • 0%
    Bears
    (8 votes)
  • 23%
    Saints
    (197 votes)
831 votes total Vote Now