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Need to Know: Will the Redskins go to running back by committee?

Jul 26, 2015, 4:22 AM EDT

Morris-Jones-Redd-Thompson

Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, July 26, four days before the Washington Redskins start training camp.

Best of NTK

Hey, I’m taking off a couple of days prior to the start of training camp. I’m going to repost a few of the more popular posts from the last few months. This one is from early May, after the draft but before the start of OTAs. There are a few tweaks I might make to it but it largely stands intact. 

I’ll be back on Monday morning, bright and early as always. 

Running back by committee? 

(reposted from early May)

The Redskins’ ranked 19th in the NFL in yards gained last year and their 4.2 yards per carry ranked 15th. That’s not good enough for a team that is as unsettled as the Redskins are at quarterback. Whether it’s Robert Griffin III behind center or Kirk Cousins or Colt McCoy, the QB will benefit greatly from a running game that is better than something right around the league average.

So there will be changes in way they do things. One is a more power-oriented ground game. The other may be some form of running back by committee.

“The running game nowadays, you need to have a couple of guys that can tote it,” Jay Gruden told Kevin Sheehan and Thom Loverro on ESPN 980 earlier this week. “Sixteen games is a long time, that’s a lot of games, a lot of carries, that’s a lot of hits on these running backs.”

Gruden said that he would like to split up the carries more than he did last year, when he went with what was mostly a one-back attack. Alfred Morris had 265 rushing attempts. The other tailbacks on the roster, Roy Helu, Silas Redd, and Chris Thompson, combined for 59 rushing attempts. That is 82 percent of the carries for Morris, 18 percent for the rest.

In his three years as the offensive coordinator with the Bengals, Gruden spread the workload in different ways in different seasons. In 2012 he had BenJarvus Green-Ellis take 80 percent of the tailback rushing attempts. But in 2011 it was a 70-30 split between Cedric Benson and Bernard Scott. And in 2013 Cincinnati drafted Giovani Bernard and gave him 170 carries to 220 for Green-Ellis (that’s a 56-44 split in percentage terms).

So maybe splitting up the running back carries isn’t so much a matter of philosophy for Gruden as much as doing things the way the quality of his stable of running backs dictates. He told Sheehan and Loverro that he will see who can earn the carries that Morris won’t get.

“I think you give Alfred the bulk of [the carries] and then Matt Jones comes in there, it could be Chris Thompson, it could be Silas Redd,” he said. “We’ll see how camp goes to see who deserves the carries, who’s going to get the carries. They have to prove then can protect the ball, No. 1, and prove they can pick up blitzes, No. 2 and then they will get some carries behind Alfred.”

Redd and Thompson are holdovers from last year but they have combined for only 25 career rushing attempts. Jones was the team’s third-round pick in this year’s draft.

Most backs come into the NFL with some innate ability to run the football. But it’s learning to do the other necessary, less glamorous work that separates an NFL running back from a guy who can find a hole and pick up some yards. If Gruden can find another running back or two we might see more of a running back by committee approach than we have seen with this team in the past.

Timeline

—It’s been 210 days since the Redskins played a game. It will be 49 days until they play the Dolphins at FedEx Field.

Days until: Redskins training camp starts 4; Preseason opener @ Browns 18; final cuts 41

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  1. ET - Jul 26, 2015 at 7:10 AM

    Did Gruden even mention Darrel Young during that interview? I’m all for seeing what Matt Jones can do, but Young already meets the criteria Gruden mentioned above (protect the ball, pick up blitzes).

    I want to see Young get more touches, and I’d love to see what kind of havoc a two-back set of Jones and Young could create. If Jones really can produce as a receiver, the two of them together would be very interesting—both can run, block, pass protect, catch out the backfield.

    • sidepull - Jul 26, 2015 at 8:17 AM

      Young, the overlooked, under appreciated back who can do it all. Needs more touches. Plain and simple.

      • redskinsnameisheretostay - Jul 26, 2015 at 5:20 PM

        Why does he need more touches when he’s great what he already does as a blocker and somewhat passing threat out of the backfield. I think is role is enough and more justified instead of spreading his duties by having him run the ball.

    • warpath1 - Jul 26, 2015 at 9:48 AM

      jones hasnt proven he can do anything in the NFL yet

      • ET - Jul 26, 2015 at 10:08 AM

        You’re right, but Jones will have ample opportunity to prove himself. The coaches seem high on him.

        • warpath1 - Jul 26, 2015 at 11:55 AM

          hopefully he is good enough to push alfred but do the other things better

    • troylok - Jul 26, 2015 at 10:52 AM

      Young is a converted linebacker. He is not going to tear up the league with rushing yards. He is a weapon that is best used sparingly. Frankly, I’d rather see Matt Jones and Alfred Morris in the backfield at the same time. Talk about a two headed monster.

      • abanig - Jul 26, 2015 at 11:19 AM

        I’d definitely like to see that 10 times a game or so, they can use Jones a FB or have them both split to the side of Griffin.

      • ET - Jul 26, 2015 at 12:07 PM

        Young doesn’t need to tear up the league with rushing yards, that’s not his job.

        With Jones a promising but still unknown quantity, Young is the only back on the roster who has shown he can do all of the following well: lead block, pass protect, catch out of the backfield, bulldoze in short yardage or goal line situations. I love Morris, but his hands are so-so at best, as is his pass pro.

        • troylok - Jul 26, 2015 at 4:06 PM

          ET, Young had 2.4 yards per attempt last year. He caught 11 balls for 7.4 yards per pass. Those aren’t stats that cry out for “give me the ball more often”. Look, he’s a good blocker and he can trip up a defense every now and then when he is utilized. He’s not the second coming of Jim Brown.

        • bangkokben - Jul 26, 2015 at 9:09 PM

          When all you need is one yard at the goal line and you get it. It hurts your rushing average – especially when you only get a dozen carries a year. Horrible rationale. I’m sure if he was in sample he’d rate high with Football Outsiders crazy stats – DVAR or whatever they call it – but bottom line he was successful on the majority of his runs. No one is asking that he become the feature back but maybe double his carries. Not too much to ask considering the success. Then if defenses want to stop DY, that would open things up for other weapons. I think ET and I are in agreement, more DY and less Jordan Reed when this team needs a short 3rd down pass or in the red zone. Why keep going to the well of failure when the well of success is right there?

        • timwillhidetimwillhide - Jul 26, 2015 at 10:53 PM

          Young makes Positive plays almost every time he touches the ball. Most of his catches are check downs and swing passes so his average is not gonna be high. He is a FB and one of the best ones in the NFL. He is not a WR or TE his average yards per catch is not going to be high. The fact that his average is over 7 yards catching swing passes and dump offs tells me he is making good positive yardage on his limited touches and like bang said when you mostly get the ball in short yardage obvious run situations your average is gonna be low again he is a FB not a RB. He should be judge by his position not compared to other positions

      • redskinsnameisheretostay - Jul 26, 2015 at 5:21 PM

        Exactly trolok! Sound comment

    • redskinsnameisheretostay - Jul 26, 2015 at 5:18 PM

      As much as I like Darrel Young, I’m confident he is better catching out of the backfield or blocking as a fullback then toting the ball. I don’t understand why so man fans think Young would be a great addition to our running attack. His job is to apply the blocks not have Morris/Jones block while he runs in. Maybe at the goal line but that’s the limit of him as a threat as a runner.

      • bangkokben - Jul 26, 2015 at 9:15 PM

        He had NINE attempts last year. SIX first downs and three TDs. Increase the load – no need to make him a primary back but INCREASE his load. Eleven receptions: five first downs and two more TDs. INCREASE HIS ROLE! Not by much but doubling it would be a good goal.

        • redskinsnameisheretostay - Jul 27, 2015 at 9:29 AM

          Young is a situational runner so if the opportunities present themselves then they’ll come. The idea of just giving him the ball more and great things will happen doesn’t seem like a sound approach.

          Unless the offense moves the ball better this season then the only increases Young should and will most likely receive is catching more passes out of the backfield. Especially since Matt Jones is a rookie this year and will need help in that role and Thompson is a huge question mark right now. To just lobby for additional rushes for Young is not going to help the overall rushing game. Young needs to be in front of his backs providing holes. So again unless the running attack is much improved, the best option is to distribute between players who are better able to run the ball downfield like (Morris, Jones, and Thompson).

  2. colorofmyskinz - Jul 26, 2015 at 7:58 AM

    Thompson is an injury nightmare. They need to give up on him. Redd is a great back but is not a true third down catch back like a Forsett or Sproles. We have 2 great backs with MORRIS and Jones. Sure DY is a great full back, but full backs are kind of out of date.

    We still have a large hole in this squad with a true speedy catching back. If we had a Forsett type, it would be an unstoppable running team.

    • sidepull - Jul 26, 2015 at 8:19 AM

      Pierre Thomas is still out there….

    • abanig - Jul 26, 2015 at 11:22 AM

      Redd is a poor man’s Alfred Morris. Redd doesn’t bring any speed, wiggle or change of pace to the redskins back field.

      I personally think they should keep all 4 if they can because Redd could be a good coverage man on kick offs but he doesn’t offer what Thompson can.

      Thompson can be our Sproles….

      If, like you said, he can stay healthy.

    • redskinsnameisheretostay - Jul 26, 2015 at 5:26 PM

      How can you be so quick to give up on Thompson yet so quick to promote Jones as a great back? How about allowing the guy to play through training camp and stop giving up on players that are WILLING to fight through injury history to prove themselves. It’s doesn’t cost the team much of anything to include Thompson in the competition for the roster. It’s not like we are going cut a Morris type player to keep him.

  3. shermanp79 - Jul 26, 2015 at 9:35 AM

    I am in favor of it!! I think using Jones on 1st and 2nd downs needs to happen. Having his ability to catch helps this team. He can do some 3rd downs too but we then need some speed there. I really do believe they took Jones to take over for Morris after the year. I really like Morris. He has been a good person/player for this team but he is limited, more importantly they aren’t going to pay him 4-5M a year. If Helu is worth 3m, he is worth at least that amount.

    • redskinsnameisheretostay - Jul 26, 2015 at 5:29 PM

      Jones is not to replace Morris as much as compliment what he does. I agree if you are suggesting Morris is not an elite back but the guy is a tremendous asset to this team. A durable back with a great attitude. There is no reason to give up on AM just because we drafted Matt Jones. A guy who bye the way doesn’t share the same level of durability that AM has proven.

  4. abanig - Jul 26, 2015 at 9:57 AM

    Clinton Portis averaged around the same per carry. It’s not a huge deal, they just need to run the ball more consistently.

    I believe that there will be a running by committee but Morris will by far get the bulk of the rushes.

    300 for Morris
    100 for Jones
    75 for Griffin
    10 for Thompson

  5. hk2000 - Jul 26, 2015 at 3:17 PM

    Most of the guys here seem to dismiss Morris, what the hell is wrong with you people? If you want blocking, he does not need to be there, DY can do that fine,but when your team is struggling the way we’ve been for ..ever, Morris will get you the couple of extra yards even if blocking is mediocre, this is a luxury most teams would love to have!

    • redskinsnameisheretostay - Jul 26, 2015 at 5:34 PM

      I agree and don’t see the logic that Matt Jones replaces Morris completely. I do think Morris’ carriers will be reduced as long as Jones can prove himself and stay on the field. However running back by committee is the norm in the NFL.

  6. mr.moneylover - Jul 26, 2015 at 5:13 PM

    Why not make DY the third down back…unlike alfred Morris DY can pass block and run the ball well and can catch…ill get rid of chris Thompson even tho he showed little potential at the end of the season I think he had to many chances to get healthy and stay healthy… silas redd wasnt right after the bus cash and that kept him out for most of the second half of the season…I think we should give that third running back spot to trey Williams

    • redskinsnameisheretostay - Jul 26, 2015 at 5:36 PM

      What make you think DY can run the ball well. Yeah on goal lines and on certain diversion plays but DY is not IMO a guy to run the ball on a regular basis. I think you’re overextending this guy’s ability to suggest he can be part of the regular running attack.

    • abanig - Jul 26, 2015 at 5:37 PM

      It’s a good idea, the cardinals and redskins used to use Larry Centers – a fullback – as their 3rd down back in the late 90s and it worked.

      I like the idea of DY being the 3rd down back although, I don’t see it happening. I think it’s going to be Matt Jones who is the main 3rd down back and they’ll use Chris Thompson as a scat back some in passing situations.

      • redskinsnameisheretostay - Jul 27, 2015 at 9:38 AM

        Larry Centers was a more gifted runner and overall player than DY. I agree with you about the 3rd down back option being primarily Jones. If Thompson can’t produce and ends up cut then I think DY will see more options catching out of the backfield this year. DY’s use really depends on the offense level of success moving the ball. The opportunities where we can move the ball well will open up opportunities for DY to play the part of running back/receiver. However, we need success from our primary skill players before DY can be used. If the team is struggling on the offense, adding touches for DY is not going to produce the positive results many think.

  7. Jeff - Jul 26, 2015 at 7:00 PM

    None of this crap matters until RGIII throws a TD in preseason. He hasn’t the last two years. People say it’s preseason, doesn’t matter. How many preseason TDs has Manning, Brady or Rodgers thrown in the last three years? Guarantee you its more. May not seem like a key stat but it is. He has proven he is not a “light switch”- you can’t just turn it on and off. If you can’t do it in preseason, you can’t do it in the regular season. The skins have convinced us over the years that sucking in the preseason is ok. It’s not and Gruden and staff would be smart to raise the stakes early.

    • Rich Tandler - Jul 27, 2015 at 4:51 AM

      Not sure what you mean. The Redskins have gone 7-1 during the preseason in the next two years. Preseason results mean nothing.

    • redskinsnameisheretostay - Jul 27, 2015 at 9:44 AM

      Jeff, I think you are referring to player performance and not game results during preseason. If you are then I agree that RG3 needs more playing time in Preseason this year. I understand the risk in a starter getting injured during preseason and the backlash that would present to the media. However, I think RG3 needs as much playing opportunity as possible in TC and preseason for both working in the pocket and working out timing with his WRs. If things go bad early in the regular season this year then I feel it will be very difficult to turn it around. The lynching on RG3 has already begun for some here and in the media. It’s gotten to the point where you can see some even hoping for it.

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