Anyone who watched the 2015 Redskins knows that one of their top priorities this offseason has to be improving the running game. They were 20th in rushing yards and 29th in yards per carry and if they aspire to get beyond a one and done playoff appearance they need to do better.
They did not do much for the running game this offseason in terms of personnel. The team made no moves on the offensive line. They are sticking with second-year player Matt Jones as their top running back.
“Yeah, we have every intention of Matt being number one, and we’re excited about it,” said Jay Gruden after Wednesday’s OTA session. “You know, he’s a big guy and I think he can handle it.”
It’s something of a leap of faith to hand the job to Jones, a player who had some flashes of brilliance but when all was said and done he averaged just 3.4 yards per carry and lost four fumbles.
But the Redskins signed no free agents and their only move in the draft was to take speedy but often-injured running back Keith Marshall in the seventh round. Right now the top of the depth chart consists of Jones, Marshall, and Chris Thompson, who was watching yesterday’s OTA practice from the sideline as he is recovering from shoulder surgery.
Since the Redskins didn’t make major, or even moderate, personnel upgrades, improvement in the running game will have to come from better execution. The problem is, they can’t work on that right now, at least not in any way that resembles reality.
"It’s hard to emphasize,” said Gruden. “Everybody wants to talk about the running game being physical but when you’re at OTAs the rules state that you can’t be physical. You know, so we’re in shorts right now. We’re just going through our fundamentals and who we’re blocking.”
“Basically as far as coming off the ball, low pad level, and you know pushing people around, that’s not going to happen out here.”
The lack of “live” play in OTAs not only hampers preparation for the running game. Anything involving tackling, of course, is not really practiced in the spring. The quarterbacks throw without being hampered by a pass rush. Defensive linemen don’t deal with double teams that are applied with anywhere near the force they’ll face in training camp and preseason games.
So while they can iron out a few wrinkles between now and the end of mandatory minicamp on June 16, the real on the big issue won’t begin in a meaningful way until the team takes the field in Richmond on July 28.