With a new general manager in charge, new faces throughout the lineup as well as new assistant coaches bringing new ideas to the table, the Redskins are a team in transition. Between now and the start of training camp, CSNWashington.com reporters Tarik El-Bashir and Rich Tandler will examine the top questions facing Jay Gruden and Co. as they prepare for the season.
How will the workload at running back be shared?
Although Washington DC is famous for trying to solve problems by assembling a committee, the Redskins have not use that approach at their running back position. For the past three seasons Alfred Morris has been the Redskins’ workhorse running back. Since he came into the league in 2012 Morris has owned 86 percent of the team’s tailback carries. But both Morris’ total yards and yards per carry have declined in each of the last two seasons. And Scot McCloughan drafted running back Matt Jones out of Florida in the third round. Will the workload shift with Jones playing a bigger role than predecessors at tailback did?
Tandler: Ever since Jones was drafted with a top 100 pick (95th overall), Jay Gruden has gone out of his way to made sure that everyone knows that Morris is still his No. 1 running back and that Jones would have to earn playing time. That is the right thing for the head coach to say. But don’t listen to what he says, watch what he does.
And what Gruden did was give Jones a lot of work with the first team during OTAs and minicamp, subbing him in for Morris early and often. That doesn’t mean that we’ll see Jones getting a lot of first-quarter carries once the games start to count; it’s always dangerous to make any assumptions based on personnel rotations when they’re wearing shorts in June. But Gruden and company clearly are intrigued by what Jones, who at 6-3, 231 resembles a linebacker carrying the football, can bring to the offense.
I think that Jones will spell Morris more frequently than Roy Helu (40 carries) did last year. But it’s entirely possible that Jones could get a substantial workload without cutting into Morris’ carries. Last year the Redskins ran the ball 401 times; 20 teams had more rushing attempts. If we are to believe all of the talk around Redskins Park (and, again, be wary of what they say) the team will run the ball more often this year. It’s possible that Morris will maintain a workload right around the 265 carries he had last year and that the additional carries will go to Jones. Put Morris down for 275 carries for 1,275 yards and Jones for 110 for 495.
El-Bashir: There are a handful of Redskins starters who will be looking over their shoulder when the team gets to Richmond. And I suspect Morris will be one of them.
As Tandler mentioned, it was indeed interesting that Jones seemed to get more reps with the first team than other backups, particularly in minicamp last month. Gruden cautioned reporters not to read too much into personnel rotations. So I’m trying not to. I really am. But I just can’t help myself. Coaches get limited on-the-field time with their players in the offseason, therefore everything is done for a reason. And Jones getting those reps was, in my opinion, done for a reason.
Morris has been a very productive running back the past three seasons. And, according to Gruden, he has enjoyed “as good [an offseason] as anybody in this building.” And that may be true. But his production has declined. He’s a rugged runner who’s carried the ball almost 900 times the past three years. He’s also entering the last year of his contract and there’s a new coach—ground game guru Bill Callahan—bringing new ideas to the Redskins’ running attack.
We’ll get a much better feel for the workload split in a few weeks. But as I’ve said before, I think Jones is going to play a much bigger role this season than many are anticipating. How big a role? My prediction: Morris gets 225-240 carries (down from 265 last season) and Jones gets 75 carries, while Robert Griffin III and Chris Thompson chip in often, as well.
Previously on Redskins preseason Q&A: