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Separating fact from fiction in the Redskins' search for a running back

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Separating fact from fiction in the Redskins' search for a running back

The Redskins need to produce more in the run game. Jay Gruden said as much, and so did Doug Williams

As a team, Washington rushed for 90.5 yards-per-game last season. That ranked 28th out of 32 teams. Rookie Samaje Perine led the team with 603 yards, but he averaged just 3.4 yards-per-carry and scored only one touchdown on the ground. 

Chris Thompson was the most dynamic running back on the team, by a long shot. He ran for nearly 300 yards, averaging 4.6 YPC, and added another 510 receiving yards on 39 catches. When Thompson went down with injury in late November against the Saints, the Redskins offense never recovered. 

There is also Robert Kelley. 2017 was a struggle for Kelley, who dealt with a number of injuries, played just seven games and posted less than 200 yards rushing. Kapri Bibbs showed some ability late in 2017 and should get a chance to compete in training camp this summer.

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That's the long version of the Redskins current running back crew. Yes, Keith Marshall is on the roster, but the 2016 7th-round pick hasn't played a single snap in the NFL. 

Looking ahead, Gruden wants to add talent at RB. He talked about it last week in Orlando at the NFL League Meetings. 

"It is OK for a back to run between the tackles and catch the ball. It is legal," the coach said. "[It's] harder to find those guys now a days."

Here's the thing that is hardest for Redskins fans to understand: The Redskins need help at running back, but that doesn't mean the team will invest the 13th or 44th draft choice at the position. 

The Redskins do like Derrius Guice, likely the second running back off the board later this month in Dallas. And certainly the 'Skins like Saquon Barkley, but the crazy talented Penn State product won't last to 13. Plenty of other names are intriguing, perhaps none more so than Sony Michel, but don't overlook his college teammate Nick Chubb either. Players like Ronald Jones and Rashaad Penny have some brand value, but don't sleep on Auburn workhorse Kerryon Johnson.

Point being that the running back crop is deep, and while the Redskins don't hold a third round pick after the Alex Smith trade, Bruce Allen made clear the team would like to move back in the draft. 

Should the Redskins move back, later into the first or get more picks in the second, then a running back early begins to make sense. If the Redskins gain a third-round pick, then it certainly starts to look like the team could add an RB. 

Remember, however, Washington has taken a running back in the last three drafts. Marshall in 2015, Matt Jones cost a third-round pick in 2016, and Perine was taken in the fourth round last year. 

When it comes to 2018, the Redskins made zero moves to address running back via free agency, even with some players the front office liked readily available. Isaiah Crowell fits that bill, and he signed a moderate contract with the Jets. 

It's easy to discuss the hypothetical of adding a running back, then there is also the matter of roster construction. 

Thompson is absolutely on the 53 in 2018. Perine probably is, too. That leaves two more spots, and a healthy Kelley will push hard for one of them. Kelley was the starter last season, and Gruden has been on record about how much he likes "Fat Rob" and his ability to make the first defender miss. 

Asked in Florida about the notion of taking a running back early in the draft, Gruden seemed fairly dismissive of the idea.

The Redskins need a lot, and on some level, drafting another running back is a luxury. Gain more picks, though, and suddenly, luxury items become more affordable. 

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Jay Gruden address comments that he doesn't like AP's running style: 'You want north-south running backs'

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Jay Gruden address comments that he doesn't like AP's running style: 'You want north-south running backs'

In the early stages of Sunday's Redskins-Cowboys clash, FOX Sports' Pam Oliver dropped a bombshell on the broadcast.

"Jay Gruden, to be perfectly clear, he is still not in favor of Peterson's strength, which is a north-south running style," Oliver said. "He feels like it limits the offense and gives the defense way too many opportunities."

If true, that helps explain the decision the Redskins head coach made prior to Week 1, making the 34-year-old and future Hall of Fame running back a healthy scratch for the first time in his career.

What it doesn't explain is the reasoning behind it. Peterson, who was signed just a couple of weeks prior to the 2018 season, ran for over 1,000 yards for the Burgundy and Gold a season ago, earning the team's Offensive Most Valuable Player award.

In an exclusive one-on-one interview with Gruden, NBC Sports Washington's JP Finlay asked the head coach about Oliver's comments.

Gruden refuted the claim. 

"You want north-south running backs. I don’t think you want east-west backs, that’s for sure," Gruden said. "[Peterson] is a north-south runner....when he gets going north-south, what that does is creates a physical mentality for our offense. Our linemen love it, and it opens up our play-action passes. We do love north-south backs.”

What the fifth-year head coach did touch on, however, is the limited amount of plays that the offense can run with Peterson is in the game. That could explain the origin of where Oliver's comments came from. 

"[Peterson] is a north-south runner," Gruden said. "What that does, sometimes, ya know it’s hard when he’s in the game, like yesterday we were in 11 personnel and they but base on the field and said ‘heck you’re just not going to run it’ and you know we had to throw it." 

It's no secret that Gruden prefers a running back that can be involved in the passing game as well. While Peterson has improved in that facet, the Redskins other options -- Chris Thompson, Wendell Smallwood, and even the injured Derrius Guice -- are currently better pass-catching backs.

Of the Redskins 62 offensive snaps, Thompson, the best pass-catching running back of the bunch, was the one who played the most. Peterson played just 18 snaps, 29 percent of the team's offensive plays.

The flow of the game also could have affected this, as the Redskins found themselves trailing for the majority of the afternoon. 

Still, Gruden insists that there's a role for Peterson in the offense.

"You know, he played last year and had a thousand yards, so..." he said.

Regardless of who the running back has been for the Burgundy and Gold thus far in 2019, they largely have been ineffective.

Against Philadelphia, Guice mustered just 18 rushing yards on 10 carries. Peterson received the same amount of carries in Week 2 vs. Dallas and didn't perform much better. Sure, he found the end zone, but was not a factor otherwise, rushing for a total of just 25 yards.

Through the first two games, the Redskins have been outrushed 336-75. That is not a winning formula by any means.

When asked why the rushing attack has been so poor in 2019, Gruden couldn't point to one specific reason.

"Combination of things," Gruden said. "Philadelphia, we tried to run the ball in the second half and we had a negative play and a holding penalty. You know, there are things that take you out of the running game, and then you lose the lead and you have to try and play a little bit faster, play a little bit of catch up and you aren’t able to run the ball. So, we haven’t been able to stick with the run for four quarters and we haven’t had enough production out of the running game."

That must change immediately, starting next Monday against Chicago, if the Redskins want to turn their season around. Gruden is confident that it will.

"We had a couple of good hits, AP had a couple of good hits [Sunday] against Dallas, we can build off of that," he said. "But I also think that when you have a new left tackle and a new left guard coming in for the first time and you have the tight end issues we’ve had a little bit, I think we’ll get there."

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The 49ers and Patriots need tackles, and the Redskins should trade Trent Williams

The 49ers and Patriots need tackles, and the Redskins should trade Trent Williams

Trent Williams does not want to play for the Redskins. If he did, he'd be playing for them.

It's time for all parties to stop the charade that Williams might come back to Ashburn and everything will be water under the bridge.

In fact, it's time to trade Trent Williams. 

On Sunday, the 49ers and the Patriots suffered injuries to their left tackles. In San Francisco, Joe Staley broke his leg and will miss a few months if not the rest of the season. The Niners are sitting at 2-0 and look to have their best chance at making the playoffs in the three seasons under Kyle Shanahan's watch. Losing Staley will hurt those chances. 

Sure, there's plenty of bad blood between Shanahan and the Redskins organization. The San Francisco coach believes the Redskins did him and his father wrong during their ugly divorce in 2013, when the organization chose Robert Griffin III over the coaching staff. 

Know what? Who cares. This is professional football and the front office needs to do what's best long-term for the Redskins, not hold a team back due to petty squabbles from nearly a decade ago. 

If San Francisco wants Trent, and makes a reasonable offer, Washington needs to listen. 

New England has already inquired about Trent. That happened. There was no real conversation about a trade then, but that doesn't mean there can't be now. 

Other teams will have injuries, and other teams certainly have needs on the offensive line. 

The Redskins appear to be taking a stand, refusing to bow to Williams' demands and waiting for his return. ESPN reported that could happen this week as Williams is racking up millions in fines. It's also worth pointing out that potential trade partners could be scared off if Williams is working behind the scenes in demand of a new contract. 

At some point, however, the organization is cutting off their nose to spite their face. Trent doesn't want to be here. It's obvious. If he wanted to be in Washington, he would be in Washington. 

There is another angle to this, now, after an 0-2 start that didn't apply in August or July or any earlier point in Williams' holdout. Earlier in the year, the Redskins had hope of delivering some strong on-field performances and proving they're not a team in the middle of a rebuild.

At 0-2 and with a defense giving up 31.5 points-per-game, it's extremely unlikely the 2019 Redskins season ends in a playoff game. Nearly 90 percent of teams that open 0-2 don't make the playoffs. 

It's time for honesty in the Trent Williams situation. He wants out. Teams could use him, multiple teams, and it stands to reason the Redskins could recoup at least a first-round pick if they move Williams. 

Going into 2020, Washington will be looking at Dwayne Haskins at quarterback and there could be a significant amount of salary cap space to maneuver in Washington. Wouldn't an additional first-round pick help the team more in the long run? Consider, too, that even if Williams returns in 2019, he's unlikely to be happy about his contract or whatever else is on his mind in 2020. Does Washington really want to elongate this drama and deal with it all of next season?

Trent Williams wants out. Teams need him. Make the deal. 

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