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Rivera wants a 'big step' out of Antonio Gibson and opportunity is there

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Antonio Gibson produced at a high level last season, even though he confessed to being confused early on as a rookie.

This year, that should be quite different, and that could mean good things for the Washington offense.

"Those are all things he will learn with the more reps he gets and that's probably the biggest thing," Washington Football Team head coach Ron Rivera said Wednesday.

"The expectation for him is to take another big step."

June football is always the time for irrational exuberance about the upcoming season, similar to how baseball players often declare themselves in the best shape of their lives during spring training. The real results come when the games start to matter.

But consider how much Gibson produced in 2020 while overcoming multiple hurdles, and the prospect of a “big step” in 2021 doesn’t seem too far fetched.

“Last year was still a learning process for me, I got the hang of it as the season went on," Gibson said Wednesday. "I’m knowing more about what I’m supposed to do, knowing more about running back." 

Gibson played wide receiver at Memphis, got drafted to play running back in the middle of a pandemic, had no offseason to work with his coaches or teammates and had to learn a new position on the fly during training camp.

That’s wildly hard to pull off.

And yet, Gibson finished with more than 1,000 yards from scrimmage and 11 touchdowns.

"He's taken a tremendous step last year, was a scoring machine for us in terms of getting close to the red zone," Rivera said of the second-year RB. "He was able to put the ball in the endzone for us."

 

Early in the year he was learning the offense and learning the intricacies of being an NFL runner, and late in the year he was dealing with a tough case of turf toe.

Imagine a full year with no learning curve and no injuries? What do the numbers start to look like then?

"I feel like I can show a lot of things this year," Gibson said. 

Of course, injuries are a part of life for NFL running backs, and unfortunately it sounds like the turf toe issues from last December are still plaguing Gibson.

"It was something small that was causing me not to be able to run 100 percent," Gibson said. "But I'm fine now, I've been cutting in practice and getting better each day."

That’s another good thing about June football, however, is that it’s a long way from real games in September. Gibson should have the time he needs to heal the injury.

Which should help with meeting some lofty expectations.

"I do anticipate him taking another big step," the coach said.

The opportunity is there.

Through a few OTA sessions open to the media, it’s obvious that Gibson has taken over the top RB spot. He’s first on the field for group and individual drills, with assistant coaches Randy Jordan and Jennifer King watchful of his footwork, explosiveness and blocking techniques.

He’s first on the field with the starting offense, gaining valuable reps with new quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and an overhauled offensive line.

This time last year Gibson was at home, quarantined. This time last year the whole world was at home, quarantined.

When Gibson and the Washington Football Team finally got on the field last August, Adrian Peterson was getting the first practice reps. Early on so was Bryce Love.

Gibson was a part of the plan last year, but when training camp first opened, he was an unknown.

This year?

Gibson remains an unknown, but only in how high his ceiling is.

The player that waved goodbye to Cowboys linebackers en route to the end zone on Thanksgiving Day is no longer off the radar, no longer down the depth chart.

He's at the top, and the whole NFL will find out how far he can go.