Jay Gruden likes fullbacks, but never finds himself with a roster spot for one. Jay Gruden likes Samaje Perine, and for the past two seasons, the coach has made sure to have a roster spot for the running back.
Looking ahead to roster cuts later this summer, the running back position is getting quite full. The Redskins re-signed Adrian Peterson in March, and the team also has Derrius Guice returning from a knee injury. Chris Thompson has locked in his role as the third down back, and the team also drafted Stanford RB Bryce Love in the fourth round. While Love seems likely to start training camp on the Physically Unable to Perform list, that's four running backs with a clear role going into the 2019 season.
What does that mean for Perine?
It's unclear. After showing some promise as a rookie in 2017, fumbles landed Perine on the bench. Last year, Perine was only active for five games and lost playing time opportunities to Peterson, Thompson along with Byron Marshall, Rob Kelley and Kapri Bibs. Marshall is back on the roster again too.
During most of offseason activities, Perine got a lot of work. Peterson was in Ashburn for minicamp, but that was just three days. Guice isn't practicing yet. In turn, Perine impressed Gruden.
"Perine has done an excellent job. He’s been one of our top performers on offense, really," Gruden said. "Perine has continued to get stronger and stronger in the weight room. He’s a powerful running back and he has not had the opportunities that he probably deserves or needs. But we just have to figure out a way to make the competition fair and play the best player, no matter whom they are or where they’re from."
Gruden's comments came in regards to trying to pare down the running back group to get to a 53-man roster. The coach admitted that Perine has a long way to go with Peterson, Guice and Thompson ahead on the depth chart.
So, if Gruden wants Perine on the roster, and there aren't enough spots at running back, but Gruden wants a fullback, could the powerful Perine fit there?
"We tried him there a couple of times a couple of years ago," Gruden said when asked about the former Oklahoma star playing fullback.
"I’m sure that he could probably do it. That’s an option, but he’s also a tailback in his mind and he wants the ball. Push comes to shove, if we need to have a fullback and he’s the only one here, then he surely could do it because he’s got the power to do it."
He has the power. He's 5-foot-11 and more than 230 lbs., not to mention he set the record for running backs bench pressing at the 2017 NFL Scouting Combine.
The reality, however, is that Perine at fullback seems like a long shot.
If Gruden was to really make a roster spot for a fullback, he would probably want a real fullback. That means somebody familiar with being a lead blocker and the toll that takes, not just a very big and powerful tailback. Gruden named Elijah Wellman and J.P. Holtz as more natural fits for the position that are on the current 90-man roster.
After three straight seasons missing the playoffs, and consecutive 7-9 campaigns, the Redskins need to reexamine all aspects of their roster. If that means giving Perine a real look at fullback, so be it, but don't hold your breath.