Going into the season, the Redskins were planning on using Samaje Perine, their fourth-round running back, on a limited basis. He was supposed to relieve Rob Kelly on occasion and learn the NFL game before competing for a larger role in 2018.
It didn’t work out that way. First Kelley went on injured reserve with knee and ankle injuries and then third-down back Chris Thompson was lost for the year with a broken leg. Perine rose to the top of the depth chart.
Since moving into the starting job three games ago, Perine has run the ball well. He has 255 yards rushing (85 per game) with an average of 4.3 yards per carry in his three starts.
“I’ve liked the fact that after his 10th carry he’s better than his first carry, and his 12th carry he’s better than his 10th carry,” said Jay Gruden. “He just continues to get better and better, his vision has been good and his decisiveness has been outstanding.”
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However, running the ball is not the only thing that Gruden requires of his running backs. The ability to pass protect is vital and that is an area where Perine is, well, a work in progress.
“Yeah, he’s getting better,” Gruden said of Perine’s pass blocking. “We just didn’t ask him to do a whole lot of that pass pro early because we had Chris and Rob. He was like our third-string pass protecting-type guy, but when he was in the game in base and we did any play-action passes, he was OK in pass protection. But now, he’s getting more opportunities so the jury’s still out on his pass protection, but I think he’s doing well.”
The other area that Gruden wants to ensure that his running backs master is ball security. Earlier isn’t the season when Perine was a part-time player, the rookie had some issues here. Although he has only one fumble on his official stat line, he had a few other botched exchanges that officially were charged to Kirk Cousins but appeared to be mostly Perine’s fault.
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But since he has been the starter the issues have gone away. Perine has no fumbles and not issues with exchanges in the last three games. To be sure, that’s not a huge sample size but perhaps the early-season struggles can be written off to rookie mistakes and a lack of time working with Cousins.
The last four games of this season will be important for Perine to build on what he has been able to accomplish so far. Kelley is a favorite of Gruden’s and it might be hard for Perine to surpass him to go into the offseason as the starter. But in the end productivity will win out. Perine already has more 100-yard games (2) in his last three games than Kelley has (1) in his 22-game career.
If Perine can continue to improve on the other facts of the game that Gruden wants from a running back, he could end up being set as the starter for the next few seasons.