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Redskins offseason Q&A: Who will be the No. 3 running back?


Redskins offseason Q&A: Who will be the No. 3 running back?

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, reporters Tarik El-Bashir and Rich Tandler will examine the top questions facing Jay Gruden and Co. as they prepare for the season.

Who will get the third running back spot?

An NFL roster is a zero sum game; a spot claimed by one player means that another player loses one. There is no doubt that third-round pick Matt Jones will make the Redskins’ 53-man roster. It is likely that the Redskins keep three running backs (in addition to fullback Darrel Young), so either Chris Thompson or Silas Redd will be on the outside looking in after the final cuts are made on September 5. Which one survives?

Tandler: This is a replay of a competition from last year, one that was won by Redd. When final cuts came before Week 1, Redd was on the 53 and Thompson was cut and eventually landed on the practice squad.

Redd, an undrafted rookie, didn’t do anything spectacular to win the job. But all through the offseason program and training camp he impressed the coaches and his teammates with his approach to the game both on and off the field. He led the team in rushing during the preseason and made the case that he belongs.

Thompson, a fifth-round pick in 2013, occasionally flashed his impressive speed and moves during camp. But his effort to make the roster was hampered by injuries, an issue that has plagued him almost his entire football career. Last year he didn’t suffer from anything major but some nagging injuries sidelined him during camp and the preseason. That tipped the scales in favor of Redd.

This year Thompson made it through the offseason program without issue and if he can maintain his health—a big “if”—he and Redd will be on equal footing in their competition. I think that Thompson’s speed gives him the edge and that he makes it in a decision that the organization ponders right up until the deadline on September 5.

El-Bashir: Based on OTAs and minicamp, it looks as though Alfred Morris and rookie Matt Jones will see the majority of the workload at running back, with Jones replacing the departed Roy Helu Jr. as both Morris’ backup and the third down running back.

If that’s indeed how things play out, it would be hard to envision anyone behind Morris and Jones getting much work as long as the first two options stay healthy. But someone will get the job, so let's talk about it.

After edging Thompson in training camp a year ago, Redd received only 16 carries (half of which came against the Jaguars) and was targeted just 10 times in the pass game. Redd did, however, make an impact on special teams with four solo tackles and one assist. But I still always found it curious that he was used so sparingly on offense. In all, Redd saw only 55 snaps spread over eight games.

Thompson, meantime, received 31 snaps in two games late in the season after spending the much of the year on the practice squad. In March, Gruden indicated that Thompson would get the first crack at the third down job. That, of course, was before GM Scot McCloughan spent a third round pick on Jones.

So with all that as a backdrop, here’s how I see it playing out: Gruden has always spoken very highly about Thompson’s potential, his speed, his elusiveness, his versatility. Gruden is intrigued, and that matters. If Thompson stays healthy in camp and makes an impact in the preseason, I suspect he’ll get the nod.

Previously on Redskins offseason Q&A:

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In talking 2018 NFL draft, Doug Williams actually explained Redskins' free agency


In talking 2018 NFL draft, Doug Williams actually explained Redskins' free agency

The Redskins spent modestly in 2018 free agency, and plenty of fans thought the team should have shelled out much bigger bucks. Talking with sources around the Ashburn facility, a prevaling notion became clear that the Washington brass believed they had a strong team in 2017, but they lost their chance to compete because of injuries. 

Well, the secret is out. Doug Williams said as much on Tuesday. 

"Coming out of Richmond last year, I liked this football team. I think we’ve got a tough football team, a smart football team. Some things you can’t control," Williams said Tuesday in a pre-draft media session. "We were very competitive up to a certain point, and when you have the injuries that we have, at a certain point, that competitive edge, you lose it because your best players are not playing."

Williams' words were true, and telling. 

First the true part:

  • In Washington's first five games of 2017, the team went 3-2. The Redskins only lost to eventual the Super Bowl champs Philadelphia and AFC West champs Kansas City. Washington only gave up more than 100 yards rushing once in those first five games, before rookie Jonathan Allen got hurt and the defense began to look much different. After Week 5, the Redskins only held one team under 100 yards rushing and finished the year dead last in rush defense.

Now the telling part:

  • The Redskins signed free agent WR Paul Richardson, and kept free agent LB Zach Brown. Beyond that, the team added inexpensive veterans in OLB Pernell McPhee and CB Orlando Scandrick. No splash moves, and recurring speculation that Washington was not offering top dollar to free agents. Bruce Allen acknowledged as much during NFL League Meetings when he explained that his team identified exactly how much they would offer free agents, their own and otherwise, and wouldn't go beyond that dollar figure. 

That means the focus of the offseason, at this point, is about this weekend's NFL Draft.

That also means the focus of the offseason, at this point, is not about Johnathan Hankins or any other free agent. 

"We’re going to deal with the draft now, and the second wave of free agents, if it’s somebody out there we feel like can help the Redskins,that’s what we’re going to do," Williams said. 

Throughout the offseason, Redskins fans wanted more action from their front office. It didn't happen, and Williams' basically explained why on Tuesday. The brass likes their team, and by default, expects better health and luck in 2018. 

When Williams talks about drafting the best player available, it's not just the typical NFL front office tripe. Right or wrong, the Redskins believe they have a team ready to compete in 2018, and any rookies that come in will only supplement that position.

"At the end of the day, I like this football team we’ve got. Like, last year when I walked out of camp, I thought we had a pretty good football team and I still feel the same way today," Williams said.

"At the end of the day, you get the best football player, and if that best football player is the guy that you want to plug and play, that’s all right. But if that’s the best football player that’s going to help your team overall, I think that’s the route you have to go."


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Doug Williams says Redskins will listen to draft trade offers but a trade up is unlikely

Doug Williams says Redskins will listen to draft trade offers but a trade up is unlikely

The Redskins aren’t in the quarterback business, so it’s highly unlikely that they will look to trade up in the first round of the draft on Thursday. But their phones will be open for business to move down. 

Speaking at the team’s pre-draft press conference, Doug Williams didn’t rule out trading up from the team’s first-round spot at 13thoverall but he doesn’t think it’s likely. 

“The chances of trading up might be a little slimmer than trading down,” he said. 

Williams said that the phones in the room will be ringing and that they will listen to any offers. But usually the team that wants to move up initiates the call and because the Redskins are set at one particular position they probably won’t pick up the phone. 

“If we were in the quarterback business, which is what this league is about, if we were in the heavy quarterback business we’d talk about moving up,” he said. “At this time, we can sit back and see what comes up if we stay at 13.”

The Redskins are set at quarterback after they traded their third-round pick and cornerback Kendall Fuller for veteran Alex Smith to replace the departed Kirk Cousins. Williams thinks that the Redskins already got good value from the pick. 

“When I think about Alex Smith, I say we got the best third-round pick in the draft,” he said. “I don't care what nobody says. You can't get a better third-round pick.”

Because they think they got a good player, albeit an older one, with that pick, the Redskins are not necessarily looking to make a deal to move back and recoup that pick on draft day. 

Williams emphasized that in order to move back, you have to have a team that wants to trade up. Often that is easier said than done. 

“They don’t just call you to ask you, they have to get a player that they want,” said Williams. “At that particular time, they’re afraid that somebody else might pick him. They might call you to ask you if you want to move back . . . If we move back, that’s because somebody called us to see if we want to move back.”

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Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, follow him on Twitter @TandlerNBCS.