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Will the 2017 Redskins go with running back by committee?

Will the 2017 Redskins go with running back by committee?

With the addition of Samaje Perine in the draft, will the Redskins handle 2017 with a running back by committee approach with the rookie sharing carries with Rob Kelley? Let’s look at Jay Gruden’s history to see if we can get an indication.

In 2014, Jay Gruden’s first season as the Redskins’ head coach, he operated what was essentially a one-man show at running back. Alfred Morris had 265 rushing attempts. The other tailbacks, Roy Helu, Chris Thompson and Silas Redd, combined for 59 carries. That comes to a split of 82 percent of the tailback carries for Morris, 18 percent for all the others.

In 2015, a committee emerged. Morris still led the team in carries but his attempts dropped to 202. Rookie Matt Jones had 144 rushing attempts, Chris Thompson had 35, and late-season addition Pierre Thomas had 11. That is a split of 52 percent for Morris, 37 percent for Jones, and 12 percent for the other two combined.  

RELATED: Pre-draft look at the Redskins depth chart: Running Back

Last year the numbers make it look like a committee but it really wasn’t. Robert Kelley led the tailbacks in carries with 168 while Jones had 99. With Chris Thompson logging 68 rushing attempts and Mack Brown getting nine, it looks like Kelley (49 percent of the tailback attempts) and Jones (29 percent) were a committee. But Kelley had only 17 carries in the first seven games while Jones had all 99 of his in that time span. From Week 8 on, Kelley carried 151 time while Jones was inactive ever week.

Looking back at Gruden’s coaching tenure in Cincinnati, 2014 in Washington resembles 2012 in Cincy in terms of the rushing attack splits. BenJarvus Green-Ellis took 80 percent of the tailback rushing attempts. But the next season the Bengals drafted Giovani Bernard. In 2013, Green-Ellis had 56 percent of the tailback rushing attempts and Bernard had the other 44 percent. That more closely resembles the 2015 Redskins.

To close to loop here, in 2011, Gruden’s first year with the Bengals, Cedric Benson had 70 percent of the tailback carries.

So here is the percentage of tailback carries the leading rusher had in each of the five seasons that Gruden has overseen an NFL offense:

2011—70%
2012—80%
2013—56%
2014—82%
2015—52%
2016—49%

If you’re looking for a consistent philosophy here you’re not going to find it. Gruden has adjusted to the talent he had. When he had a strong lead back and limited second and third options, the lead back got most of the work. When viable alternatives were present a committee emerged.

So, what will it look like this year with the addition of Perine, a powerful, 235-pound fourth-round pick out of Oklahoma? He is used to splitting time, getting about the same number of carries as Joe Mixon with the Sooners last year.

READ MORE: Jay Gruden is a huge fan of his rookie RB Perine

But Perine can handle a heavy workload when he needs to. In 36 games with the Sooners he had 20 or more rushing attempts 16 times including five with more than 30 carries.

As a rookie last year, Kelley had 21, 22, and 24 carries in his first three games as the starter. He didn’t have a 20-attempt game the rest of the season. The decreased workload did not necessarily come about because he couldn’t handle it. Game situations dictated fewer rushing attempts as the Redskins slumped to a 2-4 finish down the stretch. Still, Kelley did leave the Week 16 Bears game with a knee injury and although he played against the Giants the next week, he averaged just 2.75 yards on 13 carries. While it would be unfair to question Kelley’s durability at this point, we will see how he handles the punishment as a primary back over 16 games.  

The one thing that seems certain is that Jones won’t be taking carries away from anyone. Even before the team drafted Perine there were reports that they were looking to trade him. If they can’t make a deal it looks like his slide from committee member to unquestioned starter to the end of the bench will conclude with him getting released.

Thompson’s 68 carries last year were a career high. He had 38 rushing attempts while Jones was the primary back and 30 when Kelley was the work horse. The 2013 fifth-round pick will continue his role as a change of pace back who, barring an injury to another back, will continue to average four or five rushing attempts per game.

Perhaps Brown can earn a regular role but for the time being he seems destined to playing special teams when he is active on game days.

Since Perine hasn’t even put on a helmet yet it is difficult to project what his workload will be. However, if he is the player the organization believes it drafted he likely will get more than the 99 carries that Jones got this year.

If he does get, say 8-10 carries per game in short yardage and in relief of Kelley that should make it more of a true committee. While Gruden may go with the hot hand and one back may get significantly more action in a given game than the other, it wouldn’t be surprising to see each back getting 40 to 45 percent of the tailback carries with Thompson getting most of the rest. 

MORE REDSKINS: Roster shuffle will continue through rookie camp, OTAs

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Josh Norman's status for the Redskins in 2019 comes down to dollars and sense

Josh Norman's status for the Redskins in 2019 comes down to dollars and sense

Josh Norman’s former defensive coordinator will not join his former pupil in Washington. What’s left to wonder is whether the cornerback stays with the Redskins for the 2019 season.

On the surface, that premise seems flawed. Why ponder releasing the team's best cornerback especially with several uncertain slots elsewhere on defense including safety? 

Follow the money. 

Norman, 31, is now three years into the five-year, $75 million contract he signed in 2016. His salary ate up huge chunks of the team’s salary cap in each of those three years. 

Norman accounts for a mere $9 million in dead cap space over the final two seasons. That includes six million in 2019, but the number reaches $14.5 million if he remains on the roster. 

For a team with $16.6 million in total salary cap space –24th in the league according to Spotrac – finding ways to free up more room becomes a primary topic this offseason.

What remains at corner should Norman exit explains why he may and likely should stay. 

Quinton Dunbar proved viable in his first season in the starting lineup, though the former wide receiver missed nine games with leg injuries and finished the year on injured reserve. 

Beyond Norman and Dunbar, Washington’s corner depth chart includes four players who enter 2019 with a combined five years of NFL experience. 

Fabian Moreau, a 2017 third-round pick, received valuable playing time in the slot. Moving him outside creates a need inside.

Greg Stroman, one of two seventh-round selections last season, played more than anticipated during his rookie season because of Dunbar’s injuries. 

Same with another rookie, undrafted free agent Danny Johnson. Both showed positive traits, but likely not enough for the coaching staff to believe they could enter the starting lineup Week 1. 

Adonis Alexander, added in last year’s supplemental draft, mostly had a redshirt rookie season. 

Maybe there’s a scenario where the Redskins believe in this unit’s upside and think they could cobble together a viable group with a basic free agent addition joining the mix. That seems like a dicey proposition at the moment.

The real concerns in the secondary exist at safety. Washington may need two new starters. The team released another talkative defensive back, D.J. Swearinger before Week 17. The other starter, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, is a free agent. 

Second-year safety Montae Nicholson went to the bench after the Redskins acquired Clinton-Dix from the Packers during the season. Nicholson’s year ended on the reserve/non-football injury list following his December arrest for assault and battery, and being drunk in public. 

Swearinger’s release added to a lengthy list of projected team needs, including inside linebacker, guard, wide receiver, edge pass rusher and likely quarterback depending on Alex Smith’s recovery. 

Cutting Norman puts cornerback on the list.

Though he has not received Pro Bowl honors since signing with Washington or performed at the high level achieved during his final season with Carolina, Norman delivered a solid 2018 campaign. He believes there’s more he can do on the field particularly rushing the quarterback in select moments. Perhaps a rumored defensive coordinator change unlocks more. 

Whether that coaching switch occurs or not, swapping Norman for salary cap space is among the considerations this off-season. On the surface, such a move causes more uncertainty for a defense already appearing needy in some key spots. 

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For better or worse, Sean McVay in the Super Bowl is bittersweet for Redskins fans

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For better or worse, Sean McVay in the Super Bowl is bittersweet for Redskins fans

Sean McVay left the Redskins after the 2016 season to take over as head coach of the Los Angeles Rams.

Now, McVay will lead the Rams to the Super Bowl.

For Redskins fans, no matter what the reality of trying to keep McVay in 2016, it must sting that the 32-year-old head coach is at the top of his profession.

Meanwhile, the Redskins haven't made the playoffs since the 2015 season.

There is a dose of reality that needs to be served up. 

Keeping McVay in Washington probably was never going to happen. Jay Gruden had already promoted McVay to offensive coordinator, but it was obvious McVay wanted to be a head coach. An NFL team cannot keep an assistant from interviewing for a head coach position.

On a personal level, Gruden and McVay first worked together in 2008 with the Bucs. The two worked together on the Florida Tuskers staff in 2009. Knowing that, how could Gruden do anything but support McVay getting his chance to be a head coach?

Still, it's tough for Redskins fans to see McVay heading to the Super Bowl. 

Many wonder what might have been if McVay got promoted to the top job in D.C.. It's a fun theory, but it's not reality. 

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