When the Redskins released Samaje Perine over the weekend, the team sent a big signal to second-year running back Derrius Guice: Get ready to work.
"At the end of the day, it's not so much Samaje that it is about Derrius Guice, how much faith we have in him to carry the ball. We drafted him for a reason," Redskins head coach Jay Gruden said on Monday. "We feel like he can be a first, second and even a third down back."
Gruden's comments come after an impressive summer for Guice, and more importantly, a healthy preseason.
Last year it looked like Guice was going to be the centerpiece of the Redskins rushing attack before a knee injury in the preseason. That cost Guice the year, and he had some setbacks during his recovery. There was some raised concern when Gruden revealed during the preseason that Guice still hadn't been fully cleared for contact during the preseason, but eventually, Guice got on the field, and looked great. In Atlanta for the third preseason game, Guice got the start, played the entire first half and rushed 11 times for 44 yards.
Guice proved he could handle full contact, and he showed why there was so much excitement around him in the first place. Now, even with Adrian Peterson and Chris Thompson in the backfield, it sounds like Guice holds the keys to the Redskins attack.
"I think the offense, carries wise, will probably go through him, pretty much," Gruden said of Guice.
It's no secret that Washington's pass game is a work in progress. Veteran Case Keenum was named starter for Week 1, but outside of a brilliant 2017 campaign, Keenum is not particularly accomplished as a starting QB. The receiving group has no player with a 1,000-yard season on their resume. And Jordan Reed remains in the concussion protocol after a vicious hit in Atlanta during the preseason.
If the Redskins are going to win games, it means the run game churns clock and delivers points offensively while the defense holds the opponent in check. Gruden admitted as much.
"Offensively, we just have to find a way to mesh, find a way to hit some big plays, protect the football and do some things," Gruden said. "If we have to win 17-13, we'll win 17-13 with a great defense."
The Redskins ran the ball 414 times last year. Before Alex Smith broke his leg, Washington found a formula to win games that relied on Peterson's legs and time of possession. The future Hall of Famer carried the ball more than 250 times, and no other back had more than 50 carries.
It'd be silly to think Peterson won't get work this fall. He will. He would not have re-signed with the Redskins without some sort of assurance of his role. Thompson will too. He's a valuable weapon.
It's also clear, however, that Guice's combination of youth, speed, strength and shake will make him the centerpeice of the Redskins offense. Just listen to the head coach.
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