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Reviewing Doug and Jay’s press conferences for insight into the Adrian Peterson signing

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Let’s parse the words from Tuesday’s press conferences in an effort to figure out what the plan is at the running back position

New Orleans Saints v Minnesota Vikings Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Every NFL fan in the country — maybe around the world — knows that the Redskins signed future Hall-of-Fame running back Adrian Peterson to a contract this week. While Peterson’s name was prominently mentioned as an available free agent as the injuries started piling up in the ‘Skins backfield, and despite the fact that Twitter reported heavily in advance that AD would be among the free agent running backs that would visit the Redskins, not many people seemed to seriously consider the possibility of Peterson signing with the Redskins. In fact, the player most frequently mentioned as a realistic target ahead of the free agent workouts and visits was Orleans Darkwa, late of the NY Giants.

So, while not quite a ‘bombshell’, there was a certain amount of surprise when reports of a deal between the team and the running back began to surface on Monday.

There were some immediate reactions, many of them negative, or at least very cautious. Some suggested that this was a throwback to the bad old days of signing high profile, but past-their-prime free agents to windfall contracts. Others wondered why the organization would bring in a 33-year-old back instead of a younger player who could grow with the organization. Some people who are skilled at dissecting NFL plays and schemes openly discussed the idea that Adrian Peterson simply isn’t a good fit for the Jay Gruden offense.

Many fans, even those who may have seen the signing of Peterson as more of a cause for celebration than consternation, still wondered what role, exactly, AP would play on the team. Also, there was the question of whether AP was guaranteed a spot on the 53-man roster, and which player he would be pushing off the roster, assuming he remained on the team into the regular season. Surely he would be on the roster — after all, you couldn’t bring former 7th overall draft pick Adrian Peterson into camp and expect him to compete with (and surely not get beat out by) players like UDFA Rob Kelley, fourth-round pick Samaje Perine, or former practice squad player, Kapri Bibbs?!?

There were lots of questions, and — with the team on a day off on Monday when the signing took place — not a lot of clear and immediate answers.

But, on Tuesday, following practice, AP, Doug Williams and Jay Gruden all met with the press — many of them national reporters — and talked to the large assembly about the expectations for Peterson, and the opportunity that the Redskins contract provides him.

Overnight, Peterson has gone from being an afterthought in the free agent market to being the most-talked-about player in the NFL for 24-48 hours. The Redskins went from being one of the most ignored franchises in the NFL this offseason to the lead story for most NFL reporting on Monday and Tuesday.

But there’s not a lot of clarity.

Peterson might be washed up, but he might not. After all, he averaged only 3 yards per carry with the Saints last season, and not much better with the Cardinals. Look at his totals in his time with Arizona last season — 448 yards and 2 touchdowns doesn’t sound very impressive. But when you remember that he played only 6 games for the Cardinals, a bit of math says that he was on pace for nearly 1,200 yards and more than 5 touchdowns across 16 games. He also put up over 130 yards in 2 of his 6 games with the Cardinals running behind a terrible and injury-affected offensive line.

Peterson might be injury prone, but he might not. He played in only 10 games last season, but he averaged 21.5 carries per game for the Cardinals, and his season was ended by a stinger. He has always been described as a ‘physical freak’, and descriptions of his workout for the Redskins this week indicated that he is in great shape by any measure, and astounding condition when you account for him being a 33-year-old free agent who hasn’t played a competitive game since November ‘17.

Peterson might have a bad attitude, but he might not. The scenes of Adrian Peterson standing on the sidelines staring at Sean Payton, or jawing to teammates and position coaches, is just a bit too fresh to be overlooked. Peterson, like most great athletes, wants the ball. He wants to be the starter. He sees himself as the workhorse. Can he accept a different role if that’s how the Redskin coaches want to use him?

Peterson is obviously a great role model for conditioning and hard work. But he has clashed with coaches in the past, and then there was the suspension handed down by the NFL after he was he was indicted on a felony charge for reckless or negligent injury to a child. The Redskin locker room seems to have gotten healthier in recent seasons; there have been truly encouraging reports about the impact of Alex Smith on the culture. Is AP a good fit for this young team?

There is a lot to debate about the signing of the former Minnesota superstar. Some fans love the signing; some hate it; some are ambivalent. Nearly all have questions about what it means.

For answers, I turned to the press conferences that featured head coach Jay Gruden and Senior Vice-President of Player Personnel, Doug Williams.

Below, I have offered excerpts from both press conferences, supplemented with some of my thoughts about what it all means.

All about Adrian

Conditioning

Jay Gruden:

We need to get some people in here and Adrian was available, came to work out, looked in great shape and signed him and De’Veon Smith.

First of all, I like that Jay included the De’Veon Smith signing along with Peterson without any smirk or effort at irony. Partly this is just Jay being Jay, but there’s a subtle message here that was repeated throughout the press conference: “Adrian Peterson is just one more guy competing for a job.” He is neither ahead of nor behind the largely unknown De’Veon Smith. AP was signed because he “was available” and impressed in his workout.

We signed him obviously because of all the things he has accomplished in his career, and then we really signed him because of the workout and how good he looked in the workout, how explosive he was. Not only early in the workout, but at the end of the workout and he was not even breathing heavy. He’s in fantastic physical shape.

From both Jay and Doug, this focus on how fit and ready Peterson looked in the workout was a repeated and resounding theme. This is one of the things that gives me some encouragement as a fan wondering what to make of this signing. Why not a younger player? Why not a vet like Jamaal Charles, who seems to be a better fit for the Redskin offense? Jay was loquacious in describing Peterson’s level of fitness; something that was echoed by Doug Williams.

With just nine or so days left in the preseason, and less than 3 weeks till opening day in Arizona, signing a player who is (1) talented, (2) a knowledgeable veteran, and (3) supremely fit makes a lot of sense, and gives me some comfort with the decision.

He wanted to work out and show that he was in good shape and at the workout he proved to us that he’s in great physical condition. He’s actually a physical freak if you want to say that. He’s in great shape, explosive, and that is really what sold us. Sometimes these backs come in for workouts and they haven’t been doing anything, and you can tell they’re out shape. Some of the backs we had in here were huffing and puffing, keeling over and he’s standing straight up. He could have gone for another two hours. That played mostly into it -- his great physical condition.

Mostly this just expands on the previous point, but there are two additional things that caught my ear here.

(i) Most veteran free agents simply “visit” a team facility; the team doesn’t ask them to work out, and most free agents feel as though they shouldn’t have to work out since they have a body of work on the NFL field captured on film. Jay says that AP “wanted” to work out, and, unlike some times when I think coaches or executives may be telling what us Australians might refer to as a “porkie pie” in order to sell a narrative, I believe Jay. This says to me that Adrian Peterson is a bit humbled at the moment, and perhaps a bit desperate as well. I like what that means for his approach to the nine days between signing his contract and the end of the preseason against Baltimore.

(ii) I was a bit surprised at Jay’s graphic description of other running backs “huffing and puffing, keeling over”. I guess I naively expect every free agent showing up for a tryout to be in shape and ready to play. Jay’s description makes me think of Al Bundy or Norm from Cheers showing up — kinda like the Philly fan tryout scenes from the Mark Wahlberg movie, Invincible.

I like the image I got of a superman-like level of physical readiness, combined with a level of humility and desperation in Peterson.

When you add in the subsequent Twitter reports about Peterson’s contract (he’ll be paid vet minimum, which is a one-year, non-guaranteed contract with a salary cap hit of $630,000), then it simply adds to my belief that this is a guy who has reached the point where he just wants to play football again. When you hear guys like Teddy Bridgewater, returning from a 2-year injury rehab, or RG3, trying to come back from a year out of the game, you hear men who speak of a new-found appreciation for the game they love and their good fortune to have one more chance to come back and continue their careers. I suspect that the Redskins will be seeing this kind of attitude from Adrian Peterson, who — following his torn ACL and his suspension for off-field conduct — is now experiencing his third, and likely final, comeback.

If he makes the Redskins by beating out the competition, that’s great. But even if Peterson doesn’t make the cut to 53, he is getting two more chances to put himself on film against NFL competition and, in effect, audition for a couple of dozen other teams around the league who may find themselves needing a running back in the coming weeks.

This all points to a motivated guy with proven talent trying to win a job that he desperately wants. I like that.

Expectations

Jay Gruden:

We just got him here and I got the chance to meet him for the first time yesterday. It was his first practice, did a great job today, (running back coach) Randy [Jordan] has already taken him under his wing trying to teach him the offense and that, so we’ll see. I think if you’ve got a Redskins jersey on, you are here to compete and make the squad, and it’s no different with him. He looks great right now, legs are underneath him, looks explosive, big, strong and fast, so we’ll see how he does day after day, till the fourth preseason game.

I don’t think [there’s any extra pressure to play Peterson]; you know, I’m going to go about the business the way I’m going to go about and give it to the people who I think, but I’d like to give him some looks and see what he can do. He played for Arizona last year, got a little bit of a stinger issue, injury issue, and didn’t finish the season, so I’d like to see where he is after contact. I want to see the explosion in the hole, his vision, all that good stuff. I don’t think he’s going to lose that, but it’s just a matter of taking the hits, play after play after play and see where he stands as far as stamina goes.

I think as a running back, the most positive attribute you can have is durability, number one, and unfortunately for him, he’s had a couple of injuries, so we’ll see. He’s fully recovered, we’ve got every medical test known to man done on him and we feel confident that those injuries are behind him but you just never know. We learned the hard way, whether it is a 22-year-old back like Derrius [Guice]. In older backs injuries do happen, and we have to cover ourselves, which is why he’s here in the first place. He’s filling in for Derrius [Guice] and Samaje [Perine] right now and it could be good.

Here, again, the message from Gruden that Peterson isn’t getting any special treatment; he’s here to compete for a job like 89 other players.

But this is no typical coachspeak cliche. Gruden goes two steps beyond.

First, Jay expresses some healthy skepticism about Peterson’s fitness, which Jay was lauding just moments earlier. He looks great “right now”. Ouch.

“Well see how he does day after day” when he has to do what most of his temmates have been doing since 26 July. We’ll find out if he can take the constant strain of playing football, and — with two preseason games in 6 days — we’ll find out if he can recover and perform at a high level.

Jay seems to be less than 100% sold on whether AD is unbreakable. He tosses out the reminder that AP got injured and couldn’t finish the ‘17 season, then questions the stamina of the player who calls himself “All Day”, saying that the coaches want to see where he stands when he has to go “play after play after play.” Throughout the press conference, Jay expressed a certain level of apprehension over whether or not Peterson’s 33-year-old body was up to the rigors of playing weekly in the NFL.

I like that skepticism from the head coach, and I like that Gruden appears prepared to make Adrian Peterson earn everything he gets.

[Peterson will play Friday against the Broncos]; he’s played enough football where he knows even and odd, so I think he’ll be OK. I’d like to get him a few touches in this game and see where he’s at.

There’s not much to say here, but I just wanted to acknowledge that Jay (almost) unconditionally said that we can expect Peterson to play on Friday. The team wants to see what he’s got to offer. They want to push his fitness, test his resiliency, and see what happens in live competition. Personally, I’m thinking that the Redskins will open up the game with Peterson to see how he looks against the best defense that the Broncos are willing to put on the field. I doubt that the coaching staff wants to see AP against the Broncos 3rd quarter defense, so I am guessing he’ll be tossed into the fire.

Well there is a lot that goes into [deciding AP’s role with the Redskins] you know — not only what he can do, but where we are at the running back position, where Rob [Kelley] is, where Samaje [Perine] is with his ankle, or where Byron [Marshall] is with his knee, where Chris Thompson is. So I think there [are] a lot of factors involved in our final decision when it comes to the running back position. My whole thing is -- I just want to get these guys in here, give them a chance to get the ball in their hands [and] see what they can do and then we’ll make the decision [about who makes the 53-man roster] accordingly.

We’ll weigh everything out and his performance will also have a lot to do with it. What he does, not only Friday, but during the weeks of practice leading up to the games.

Jay was unwavering on this point in the press conference. Adrian Peterson is not being handed the starting role, and he is not guaranteed a spot on the 53-man roster. He has nine days to prove that he belongs on the team by beating out the competition.

Jay is setting expectations with the fan base here, but one has to imagine that Adrian Peterson is getting this message loud an clear.

Doug Williams:

Running Backs Coach Randy [Jordan] and Head Coach Jay [Gruden] and Offensive Coordinator Matt [Cavanaugh], the coordinators have to sit down with Adrian [Peterson] and let him know how this thing is going to work, but we all know if you’ve got a guy that’s got a hot hand, you don’t just set him down just because you want to get other guy a chance to play. But I mean, if you’re going by committee and you’re getting results, you’ve got to keep doing what you’re doing.

Doug’s tone had the feel of Andy Griffith in a porch swing on a Sunday afternoon, but there seems to be a dual message from Doug, and maybe some “iron in his words.”

Firstly, the coaching staff needs to sit down with Peterson and “let him know how this thing is going to work”. In one way, that sounds like an admonishment to the staff to take care of their responsibilities to this veteran player. But heard another way, that could be a shot across the bow to let AP know that things are going to be the way Jay Gruden wants them, and AP would do well to listen closely to what is expected of him.

Likewise, when I hear Doug at Peterson’s introductory press conference, say that you don’t sit the guy with the “hot hand” just to get another player on the field, that sounds like it could be an endorsement of AP — he’ll get his snaps if he’s producing, and he won’t have to worry about sharing the ball. But then I listen the other way — Doug could be putting a little more powder in the barrel for that shot across AP’s bow. With the scenes of AP pouting and jawing on the Saints sideline still fresh, this could be Doug’s way of reminding Peterson that his legendary years in Minnesota from 2007 to 2015 don’t buy him anything in Washington in 2018. If he earns the starting position and produces, that’s great; but if he is on the team as a backup or as part of a committee, he’ll shut up and like it.

I think like anything else you let the chips fall where they may. We’ve got two weeks, more than two weeks to find out exactly how this thing is going to work out. Adrian can very well be a part of that, Perine can come back healthy, we don’t know how long Marshall is going to be out, whether that is two or three weeks you don’t know. But they’ve got to come back. We do know that Kapri Bibbs had a good camp and Rob is healthy, so you have to roll with what you have at this particular time and let the weeks go by and find out where we are in the next three weeks.

Doug is repeating the message: Peterson is lucky to be here. The Redskins have 4 talented guys they believe in, and AP is getting this opportunity only because of injuries. Doug makes the point that those injured players “have got to come back”, so, to make the team, AP has to be the better running back. Doug is reminding Peterson and the fans that no decision will be made until after the Ravens game. Peterson is on probation like every other player on the 90-man roster, and the competition has a head start on him.

Attitude

Doug Williams:

I think the average guy that has accomplished what Adrian has accomplished probably would feel like, ‘I don’t have to work out. You sign me.’ But, he didn’t come in here with that attitude. I think it shows you the person he is, that he has humility and he realized he wanted to play. He realized he is in a good situation as far as what we have here, the pieces to go with and he was willing to do whatever it takes to show us that he deserves an opportunity to be on this football team.

Doug is repeating Gruden’s theme - nothing will be handed to Peterson; he’ll have to earn whatever he gets. But, at the same time there is the vote of confidence in AP who came in humble and with the right attitude, realizing that he wants to play more football and willing to do whatever it takes. As a fan, I love both aspects of this message.

Third down backs

We have a third down back, and I wouldn’t ask Adrian [Peterson] to be on third down with all the things he’d have to learn right now, that’s Chris [Thompson], Byron [Marshall] and Kapri [Bibbs] have that stranglehold. Really, we are looking for first and second down guys. Obviously third down, short to medium he’d be in there, but that’s what we are looking for.

There’s a pretty reasonable assumption being tossed around that the Redskins will be keeping 4 backs. They’ll keep Chris Thompson, with either Bibbs or Marshall as a backup, and they’ll have two backs to line up on 1st & 2nd down. The early-down backs could be a traditional starter & backup, or they could share carries. There’s absolutely no surprise that Peterson is in competition for the early-down role, which pits him directly against Rob Kelley and Samaje Perine.

With 6 healthy guys, there’s likely two that don’t make the final roster. I had been leaning towards the idea that the team might take advantage of Marshall’s injury and ‘stash’ him on IR at the beginning of the season, especially since Bibbs seems to be outplaying him, but Gruden said on Sunday that he hopes that Marshall will be back healthy prior to final cuts, and Doug reiterated on Tuesday that they expect Marshall back. Of course, on Sunday Jay was saying that they didn’t expect to sign another running back and would “roll with” the healthy guys they had on the roster, but on Tuesday they signed — not one, but two new ball carriers.

Info on other Redskin players

Jay Gruden:

Chase Roullier and Samaje Perine

Chase just has a little groin injury and he’s day-to-day. Same with Samaje, [he] is close. He’s got an ankle sprain, so we’ll wait and see, day-to-day.

Sounds like Roullier has a minor nick, and that Samaje could be ready by the time the Broncos game comes up. Then again, with Peterson and De’Veon Smith joining the team, there’s probably no reason to rush Perine back into the lineup (unless his job is in jeopardy and you want to give him every opportunity to keep it). Personally, I think Perine should only play in the 4th preseason game, and then, only if he’s playing to keep his job.

Byron Marshall

Byron [Marshall] could be a little bit longer. He’s got a sprained knee so we’ll just have to take that for what it is and go from there.

I only toss this in to repeat what I said above — Marshall has the most severe non-season-ending injury that I know of on the Redskins roster right now. He’s a valuable guy who is ‘on the bubble’ and may be at risk of being cut. I don’t think that the coaches or fans would be heartbroken if he was put on IR to start the season, with the possibility that he could be brought back after week 8, if needed, with as many as 9 games left in the regular season.

Stacey McGee

[Stacey McGee] is karate kicking right now over there [inside the weight room] so he’s doing pretty well. I don’t know as far as Week 1 is concerned, we’ll figure that out once we get to that point. But he’s a big guy and could be a PUP option for us.

I’m more and more convinced that the Redskins don’t want to cut McGee, but simply won’t have any choice if he’s healthy on 31 August; the team simply has too much young uncuttable talent on the defensive line. I think McGee knows it’s in his best interest not to be healthy either. I’ve been convinced since the first day of training camp that McGee would be on the PUP list to start the season; this report from Gruden doesn’t really change my mind.

Doug Williams:

Alex Smith

What I’ve seen during training camp is that Alex [Smith] brings something to this team that we hadn’t had and that is prolonging plays, making receivers make plays, throwing the ball where it’s catchable and giving them an opportunity to make plays and I think that in itself is a plus for us.

I’m only tossing in this quote because Williams seems to be unnecessarily throwing a little shade at Kirk with the phrasing of his answer: “Alex brings something to the team that we hadn’t had...”

There is a specific list of attributes that shouldn’t surprise anyone at this point:

(i) prolonging plays;

(ii) Making receivers make plays;

(iii) throwing the ball where it’s catchable; and

(iv) giving receivers an opportunity to make plays

The ‘Skins seem to have a very clear idea of what they believe Alex Smith brings to the Redskins, and they seem to have embraced that conception of him.

Cam Sims

[Wide Receiver] has been a good competition. I think what has happened is the free agent kid from Alabama [Cam Sims] threw a hand grenade in this thing. I think Sims has had a tremendous camp.

I knew a lot of fans were excited after watching Sims play against the Jets. It seems like he performed above expectation, based on Doug’s comment, and that he’s creating one of those “good problem to have” situations. Kinda funny that Doug initially couldn’t remember his name.

Brian Quick

You have to give [Brian] Quick some compliment. He was having a great camp before the injury.

Did anyone else know that Quick was injured? This was the first I’d heard of it, and I don’t know what injury the receiver has. I was aware that he’d only had one target so far in the preseason, but I’m intrigued to learn that he’s injured. Unless this is simply a reference to the thigh injury Quick suffered before the Jets game, I don’t know quite what Doug is talking about. Perhaps this is another Marshall/McGee situation where we seem to have some depth at a position and don’t really want to lose the player. Maybe the team is hoping to keep ahold of Brian Quick by starting out the season with him on IR. Maybe this is a reference to an early-training-camp injury that is already healed; I dunno.

Mo Harris

Maurice Harris has played exceptionally well until the concussion

Concussion? What concussion?! Did you know that Maurice Harris had suffered a concussion?

I’m not happy about this news, and I heard it for the first time from Doug on Tuesday.

A little Bill-in-Bangkok rant about Twitter reporting

Jay Gruden:

We’ve been going to practice the last few days with only three running backs and one of them is Chris [Thompson], and Chris probably won’t play a whole lot in the preseason.

Let me end my comments by taking one of my occasional lazy pot-shots at Twitter reporting.

I used to have great disdain for Twitter reporting, but I think two things have happened over the past few years. One thing is that I have come to appreciate Twitter’s strengths — its immediacy and its wide dissemination. Sitting in Bangkok, Twitter puts me on even footing with the average Redskin fan in Reston or Bethesda in terms of keeping up with my favorite team. The other thing, though, is that I think most reporters have learned that — even in the race to be first to report something via Twitter — it’s a ‘fail’ if they report the facts wrong. Enough reporters have gotten burned for innacurate tweets that nowadays I think journalists fact-check more before tweeting, if only to avoid embarrassment later.

But not every reporter is equally diligent. This week, JP Finlay sent out this tweet:

Now, the difference between “might not play at all” and “probably won’t play a whole lot” isn’t a crevasse as wide as the Grand Canyon, but it’s not the same thing, and it leads to confusion for fans rather than clarity. Reporters should do better.

Different day, different player, same problem

In Jay’s Sunday press conference, long before there was any discussion of bringing Adrian Peterson in for a workout, Jay said this:

We’re not looking for a starter right now. We’ve got Rob [Kelley] in-house, obviously Chris Thompson, Kapri Bibbs has done a good job, Samaje [Perine] I don’t think is going to be very long at all. You know, so we’ve got four [running] backs right there.

It seems clear to me that Jay is saying that there are four running backs who, unlike Guice, do not have long-term injuries that will keep them out for the season, and there is no clear starter.

That did not deter JP Finlay from sending out this tweet during the press conference:

He “kinda says Rob Kelley is the starter”?? Either Jay said Kelley is the starter, or he didn’t.

So, while I appreciate a lot of what Twitter does for me (and for all of us, I guess), I encourage you to consider that these guys are tweeting on the fly and maybe a message gets garbled in the rush.

End of rant.

Poll

What will happen to Adrian Peterson?

This poll is closed

  • 90%
    He’ll make the Redskins regular season roster
    (370 votes)
  • 4%
    He’ll be cut by the Redskins, but will play for another team in 2018
    (20 votes)
  • 4%
    Dead man walking; his career is already over... he just doen’t know it yet
    (17 votes)
407 votes total Vote Now

Poll

What will happen to Kapri Bibbs?

This poll is closed

  • 65%
    He’ll make the Redskins regular season roster
    (228 votes)
  • 31%
    He’ll be cut by the Redskins, but will play for another team in 2018
    (111 votes)
  • 2%
    Dead man walking; his career is already over... he just doesn’t know it yet
    (9 votes)
348 votes total Vote Now

Poll

What will happen to Byron Marshall?

This poll is closed

  • 8%
    He’ll make the Redskins regular season roster
    (31 votes)
  • 66%
    He’ll be on the Redskins practice squad
    (232 votes)
  • 17%
    He’ll be cut by the Redskins, but will play for another team in 2018
    (61 votes)
  • 6%
    Dead man walking; his career is already over... he just doesn’t know it yet
    (23 votes)
347 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Who makes the Week 1 53-man roster for the Redskins?

This poll is closed

  • 53%
    Both Perine & Kelley
    (201 votes)
  • 40%
    Perine only
    (151 votes)
  • 5%
    Kelley only
    (20 votes)
  • 0%
    Neither
    (1 vote)
373 votes total Vote Now