- I think it is exciting that the Redskins are doing...exactly what a team does when it is Straight Outta Running Backs. The idea of adding a player like Adrian Peterson is the kind of thing that would blow this town’s mind...six years ago. Listen, I am NOT poo-pooing the addition of a veteran running back who—if and when healthy—is capable of providing competent, if not slightly above average production behind a solid offensive line. If our line is ready to go week one, I have little doubt that Adrian Peterson could pound out a similar stat line as Rob Kelley. I don’t, however, think that Peterson would be coming to take over that job from Fat Rob, and I am not even completely convinced that the team likes the idea of Peterson over a fully healthy Samaje Perine. We should all pump the brakes when it comes to being “saved” by a veteran running back. As I said earlier in this space, with the loss of the uber-talented Derrius Guice, the success of the rushing attack is going to be as much—if not more—on the ability of the line as it is on the back. (This was mostly the case already, though Guice has/had the look of a guy who could find yards not given to him by the line.) The era of short-lived running backs has been one of the longest and enduring eras in the NFL, and it ain’t ending anytime soon. Teams that have a bell cow, or stud/superman athlete are positioned ahead of the pack, while the rest of the league’s depth charts are littered with good players that have limitations leading their running games. Without Guice, the Redskins find themselves in the latter category, and that won’t change with the addition of a guy over the age of 30 who has already logged one or two (or more) knee/leg injuries. That doesn’t mean the addition of a player like Peterson won’t make the Redskins better, but I just want us to be clear on how it makes us better. (Same goes for Jamaal Charles and other vets we may work out.)
- Over the weekend, there appeared to be more coaches and trainers in the area where the running backs were practicing than actual running backs. I think we had three guys running plays. Assuming for a moment that Byron Marshall and Samaje Perine are both unavailable to play the first week of the season, we would be be suiting up Rob Kelley, Chris Thompson and Kapri Bibbs. It is not exactly the way the team drew it up even a month ago, but there you have it. Marshall could even be lost for the season, meaning Perine would be the only other guy right now with a chance to help. Adrian Peterson can provide value in a situation like this. We can’t ask him to drop 2,000 yards and make us all forget about losing Guice, but we can ask him to eat up some reps to keep the balance of our stable from being overworked. We can ask him to use those veteran eyes and find holes that only a guy with his experience can shoot for, and we can ask him to be a leader from Monday to Saturday. I could be wrong of course, but working around a guy like AP must have some kind of payoff for the younger players. The whole point is, we are deep into Plan B at running back. Deeeeeeeeeeeeep. We aren’t “fixing” the loss of Guice. We are desperately trying to put the right mix of backs in pads on Sundays so that Alex Smith can lead a productive and efficient offense. This all might make perfect sense to most of you...but names shine bright in people’s heads around here (everywhere probably). Guys like Larry Johnson, Shaun Alexander and T.J. Duckett come to mind when I think of running back additions to the Redskins that we (cough, cough, me, cough) may have gotten too excited about.
- Anytime you lose the kind of talent that exits the building when a player like Guice goes down, someone or some position group inherits additional weight to shoulder. The offensive line is already one of the most important position groups in the game, but the Redskins unit will have to find a way—if possible—to raise their game and pave roads for slightly less talented folks. The good news for Redskins fans is that the team has a group of five starters that I feel confident in saying is up to that task. Trent Williams and Brandon Scherff are among the best in the game at their respective positions. The Jets found that out during joint practices—the word is out that New York’s defensive line (including Leonard Williams) was completely owned by the Redskins OL in drills. To me, a big part of helping the line compete at the highest level possible is the athleticism of Alex Smith. I always thought—and still think—that Kirk Cousins is an athletic dude, but Smith has his him beat. If you look back and recall how the Redskins were able to run teams over with Robert Griffin III at quarterback and a late-round rookie running back (Alfred Morris), it was the threat of the RG3’s legs. We are seeing some of that in the preseason as Alex Smith has read the defensive end on running plays. I don’t think Jay Gruden wants his 33-year old signal caller running as much as Griffin tried to in 2012, but the impact that kind of threat has on the offensive line’s ability to push guys around is real. Put simply, that kind of threat puts guys on the wrong foot, or worse, on skates. When 300+ pounders get you leaning the wrong way, or hesitating on the wrong foot, it’s over. If Alex Smith is able to be effective on some read-option plays early, the running backs we have will be plenty able to be effective as well.
- I hope people paid special attention to the defensive line the other night. Seeing our last TWO first round picks lined up next to each other was quite the treat. (This has been therapeutic for me, and I hope you have been able to draw the same kind of happiness from watching Jonathan Allen and Da’Ron Payne battle.) As much attention as we are paying to our offensive ground game—and rightfully so—the Redskins inability to stop the run has been as much our fatal flaw as anything. I don’t know how else to say it except to say that this defensive line is as good or better than 75% of you have ever seen in burgundy and gold (maybe more). Injuries change everything, but as of now, this defense stands ready to get off the field a lot more often than last year’s edition.
- One of the many beneficiaries of an improved defensive line (and we have made the point that pretty much everyone benefits when you upgrade the line of scrimmage on either side of the ball) is the secondary. We know that pressure forces quarterbacks to make quicker decisions, which can force turnovers by itself, but our defensive line has the ability to place opposing offenses into far worse situations than they were in last year. Defensive backs can’t cover forever, so a better pass rush does limit that, but by succeeding at a higher degree against the run, the Redskins defense will likely face more long yardage plays on second and third downs. In these scenarios, routes take a beat or two longer to develop, the quarterback takes an extra step or two back, and defensive backs have just a sliver of more room to operate. From disrupting passing lanes to keeping quarterbacks from setting their feet, our defensive line could finally create the kinds of opportunities for our secondary from which we see other defenses around the league routinely benefit.
- I so desperately wanted to talk linebackers here, but we have a themed piece due today for the network that asks us about some thing or things that we are most excited about. While I do continue to beat the drum on our defensive line, the linebackers factor heavily into my excitement as well. Instead, I’ll leave today with the question: Is the third preseason game still that meaningful? Does it matter where your team is developmentally? Is it still a “dress rehearsal” or have we kind of entered a new era of preseason football where the last two games are going to be played extensively by the bottom of the 90-man roster? For my money, I am no longer feeling what has been a somewhat established reality. I just don’t think it is that big a deal anymore and I think it is going to drive a real change to whatever the preseason looks like after the next collective bargaining soap opera.
Should the Redskins sign a free agent running back or continue to rely on the stable of young backs on the roster?