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Redskins offseason Q&A: Who will be the No. 3 running back?


Redskins offseason Q&A: Who will be the No. 3 running back?

With a new general manager in charge, new faces throughout the lineup as well as new assistant coaches bringing new ideas to the table, the Redskins are a team in transition. Between now and the start of training camp, reporters Tarik El-Bashir and Rich Tandler will examine the top questions facing Jay Gruden and Co. as they prepare for the season.

Who will get the third running back spot?

An NFL roster is a zero sum game; a spot claimed by one player means that another player loses one. There is no doubt that third-round pick Matt Jones will make the Redskins’ 53-man roster. It is likely that the Redskins keep three running backs (in addition to fullback Darrel Young), so either Chris Thompson or Silas Redd will be on the outside looking in after the final cuts are made on September 5. Which one survives?

Tandler: This is a replay of a competition from last year, one that was won by Redd. When final cuts came before Week 1, Redd was on the 53 and Thompson was cut and eventually landed on the practice squad.

Redd, an undrafted rookie, didn’t do anything spectacular to win the job. But all through the offseason program and training camp he impressed the coaches and his teammates with his approach to the game both on and off the field. He led the team in rushing during the preseason and made the case that he belongs.

Thompson, a fifth-round pick in 2013, occasionally flashed his impressive speed and moves during camp. But his effort to make the roster was hampered by injuries, an issue that has plagued him almost his entire football career. Last year he didn’t suffer from anything major but some nagging injuries sidelined him during camp and the preseason. That tipped the scales in favor of Redd.

This year Thompson made it through the offseason program without issue and if he can maintain his health—a big “if”—he and Redd will be on equal footing in their competition. I think that Thompson’s speed gives him the edge and that he makes it in a decision that the organization ponders right up until the deadline on September 5.

El-Bashir: Based on OTAs and minicamp, it looks as though Alfred Morris and rookie Matt Jones will see the majority of the workload at running back, with Jones replacing the departed Roy Helu Jr. as both Morris’ backup and the third down running back.

If that’s indeed how things play out, it would be hard to envision anyone behind Morris and Jones getting much work as long as the first two options stay healthy. But someone will get the job, so let's talk about it.

After edging Thompson in training camp a year ago, Redd received only 16 carries (half of which came against the Jaguars) and was targeted just 10 times in the pass game. Redd did, however, make an impact on special teams with four solo tackles and one assist. But I still always found it curious that he was used so sparingly on offense. In all, Redd saw only 55 snaps spread over eight games.

Thompson, meantime, received 31 snaps in two games late in the season after spending the much of the year on the practice squad. In March, Gruden indicated that Thompson would get the first crack at the third down job. That, of course, was before GM Scot McCloughan spent a third round pick on Jones.

So with all that as a backdrop, here’s how I see it playing out: Gruden has always spoken very highly about Thompson’s potential, his speed, his elusiveness, his versatility. Gruden is intrigued, and that matters. If Thompson stays healthy in camp and makes an impact in the preseason, I suspect he’ll get the nod.

Previously on Redskins offseason Q&A:

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Jay Gruden deserves praise for keeping Redskins 'out of the ditches'

Jay Gruden deserves praise for keeping Redskins 'out of the ditches'

On paper, Jay Gruden's tenor with the Redskins is nothing to write home about. Through five seasons he holds a 35-44-1 record, good enough for a .444 winning percentage. Looking at that, some may draw the conclusion that Gruden hasn't been what the Redskins need at the helm.

But according to Pro Football Talk's Darin Gantt, that's not exactly the case. Taking into account the variables Gruden has dealt with throughout the five years, Gantt actually sees him as a "really good" coach.

"I have always come down of the side, maybe, of guys who are doing more with less," Gantt said recently on a Redskins Talk Podcast. "I think Jay has done a pretty good job keeping things in the middle."

Doing more with less and working in the middle essentially defines Jay Gruden's career with the Redskins. Besides his opening year in 2014 in which Washington went 4-12, Gruden's teams have consistently finished right around the middle of the pack.

In the last four seasons, the Redskins have not won more than nine games, but they also haven't lost more than nine. Hovering right around .500, they've always been around league average.

Part of the reason Gantt is willing to give Gruden praise for records that some coaches would get scolded for revolves around what he's had to work with. Gruden's time as head coach has been filled with injuries and other dilemmas both on and off the field. 

In those circumstances, it wouldn't be surprising to see a team completely flounder and spiral out of control. But, that hasn't really been the case with Gruden. Dealing with what he has, the head coach has kept the team competitive for the most part. The team hasn't been a perennial playoff contender, but it also hasn't been at the bottom of the league.

For that ability to keep the Redskins out of the basement despite all the problems he's encountered, Gruden is someone Gantt respects.

"They're able to keep it out of the ditches," Gantt said about Gruden and former NFL head coach John Fox, who Gantt followed during his time in Carolina.

"I think again in the NFL there's something to be said for that," Gantt added. "When things get sideways a Jim Zorn can lose control in a hurry. I feel like Jay just got sort of a steady hand on the wheel."

Until Gruden takes Washington back to the postseason, the critiques will continue to come, as they would for almost all head coaches in similar situations. But when looking at Gruden's time in Washington with a wide view of everything that has happened, Gantt believes the head coach deserves at least a little praise for keeping things afloat.


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Best birthday ever? 107-year-old Redskins fan celebrates in Burgundy and Gold

Best birthday ever? 107-year-old Redskins fan celebrates in Burgundy and Gold

When Carletha "Nana" West was growing up, she began to take an interest in football. In particular, she took notice of a certain Redskins quarterback. 

"When Sammy Baugh was quarterback I liked him and I was just learning football at that time," West said. "I was young myself."

Baugh commanded the Redskins offense from 1937-1952 and became one of West's favorite player. With that, her fandom for the Redskins grew.

Decades later, her love for the Redskins remains. So for her 107th birthday -- yes, 107th -- she, of course, celebrated it with some Burgundy and Gold festivities.

Joined by Redskins GM Bruce Allen, West took in her birthday on Thursday, July 18, at Brandywine in Alexandria, Va. Not only was she given a customized Redskins jersey with the number 107 and the name "Nana", but West also got a day named after her. In Alexandria, July 18 will now be known as Carletha "Nana" West Day.

West spent some time reminiscing about her years as a Redskins fan, singing 'Hail to the Redskins' and even sharing her advice on how to live a long, fulfilling life. Besides loving football, she shared some simple words of wisdom.

"Make friends," West said. "And keep them."