When Alfred Morris signed with the Dallas Cowboys this offseason, the Redskins made very clear they were comfortable with Matt Jones as their starting running back. A few days into training camp, it's obvious the organization is committed to Jones. Watch the running back group in drills, and Jones consistently takes the first rep. Coaches are in Jones' ear constantly, talking body lean and ball location and working hard to get the second-year man ready.
Ready or not, Matt Jones is the unequivocal starter at running back for the Redskins.
After that, however, things are not so clear.
On the depth chart, third-year pro Chris Thompson lands as the No. 2 RB. Asked if that means he is the backup running back, Thompson laughed.
It's not that he wouldn't like the increased carries that a second-string RB would get, but Thompson has carved out a nice spot in the Washington offense.
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"I think my role, I may be able to run the ball more, but I'll still be more of a pass catcher, be in on third downs, and a few gadget plays here and there," Thompson said. He added, "I love it."
At 5-foot-8 and less than 200 lbs., Thompson may not have the bulk to be a true backup. A tough player - Thompson has played through a host of injuries in his three NFL seasons - in 2015 he carried the ball just 35 times, his most carries ever. Compare that to Jones, who had nearly 150 rush attempts last season in a time share with Morris.
But if Thompson isn't the backup, who is?
"We still got to see what's going on with all the young guys," Thompson said. "At some point during the season whoever makes the team will be taking a bulk of the runs, being that real backup guy."
After Jones and Thompson, the Redskins roster features a number of unproven young options, perhaps most notably rookie Keith Marshall, who has looked impressive in flashes at training camp. A runner with top-end speed, Marshall was a seventh-round draft pick out of Georgia. He's also a guy with an extensive injury history - a major part of his slide to the seventh round - and who already missed some time due to a hamstring issue in rookie minicamp.
So, looking at this logically, if Thompson doesn't really consider himself the true backup to Jones, and the options for that role other than Thompson are headlined by a seventh-round rookie RB, does that mean the Redskins will bring in a veteran back? Thompson answered that exact question.
"I haven’t heard anything," he said. "I haven’t heard anything so I think that's a good sign that the coaches trust who we have here. We just got to focus on being better."
It might be easy for the coaches to trust their group of running backs in late July, but that might get tougher as the calendar gets closer to the regular season. Late in 2015, the 'Skins signed Pierre Thomas, and the veteran is still available on the free agent market. Plus, other backs might emerge over the next month as other teams make cuts.
Like any competitor, Thompson explained that he would happily take increased carries. Washington will look to replace Alred Morris' 202 carries from 2015, and Thompson will probably see an uptick in chances on the ground. But with his size and skillset, it's hard to imagine Thompson's role changing tremendously.
"Right now, I'm still playing the third down role, so, you can count that as being the backup running back," Thompson said, a slight smile emerging on his face. "If it does bring me more carries at some point throughout the season I'll be glad to take over that role too."