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Need to Know: Focus on running backs as Redskins face Falcons

Aug 11, 2016, 5:57 AM EDT

Jones Thompson camp 2016 USAT

ATLANTA—Here is what you need to know on this Thursday, August 11, the day the Washington Redskins open their preseason in Atlanta against the Falcons.


Today’s schedule: Redskins @ Falcons 7 p.m., Georgia Dome, telecast on CSN Mid Atlantic

—The Redskins last played a game 214 days ago. It will be 32 days until they host the Steelers in their 2016 season opener.

Days until: Preseason vs. Jets @FedEx Field 8; Final roster cut 23; Cowboys @ Redskins 38

Focus on running backs in Atlanta

For the first time this decade, the focus of the Redskins’ preseason will be not on the quarterback but the player to whom he will be handing the ball off.

To refresh your memories on the quarterback circuses situations:

—In 2010 there was the arrival of Donovan McNabb.

­—The next year we had the John Beck-Rex Grossman competition with Mike Shanahan staking his reputation on the success of the duo.

—Then in 2012 there was RG3 mania and every move of the second overall draft pick was under the microscope.

—The drama of Griffin’s recovery from a knee injury consumed the next year.

­—Then in 2014 it was the arrival of Jay Gruden and questions over weather Griffin could be the answer in a West Coast offense.

—Finally, last year we had an unannounced QB competition, Griffin’s ugly performance against the Lions and Kirk Cousins getting elevated into the top spot.

This year, it’s the steady Cousins as the unquestioned No. 1 quarterback. His $20 million contract is enough to guarantee that nothing he does during the preseason will cause him to lose that job.

But there is plenty of mystery at the running back position:

—Second-year player Matt Jones is the starter and he probably won’t lose that job in August. But he needs to protect the football and improve on the 3.4-yard per carry average he had last year if he is going to sell Gruden and the fan base on his ability to hold the job the while season.

Chris Thompson is No. 2 on the depth chart but he is more the third down back than he is an alternative should Jones get injured or falter. It will be interesting to see what happens if they feed him the ball several times in a row to see if he can take some pounding.

Keith Marshall is where we get to the real mystery. He is a rare combination of size and speed but he lasted until the seventh round of the draft because he was unable to stay healthy at Georgia. He should see considerable action against the Falcons tonight and we’ll see about his ability and his durability. They want to know if he can be the No. 2 running back.

—Mack Brown should also get some carries. He seems to be a long shot after spending some of last year on the practice squad.

—The mystery man is Robert Kelley, an undrafted rookie. He looks good in no pads in the spring. But he has struggled in pads in Richmond. Kelley at least has to present a case to be able to make the practice squad. But it’s clear that his star, such as it was, has faded and he need to have a good game in order to become relevant in the running back conversation.

So there you have it. Five players, probably three jobs a stake and another one or two on the practice squad. It starts tonight in Atlanta.

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In case you missed it 

  1. colorofmyskinz - Aug 11, 2016 at 6:19 AM

    Most everyone has dogged Keith Marshall on not even being able to make the team. I have been talking about him turning heads since the day drafted. This kid is going to be special. Matt Jones is going to have a breakout year. We are fine people. Let’s just hope and pray durability finds its way to these guys like it surprised most all of us with JReed last year. Durability is the only question at hand in my mind. Marshals only issue in OTAs was a little hamstring tweak. We are fine with these guys as long as they are in the field.

    • redskins12thman - Aug 11, 2016 at 6:57 AM

      Remaining healthy is not a trivial manner; just look at Chris Thompson, who we were lucky to see him in 13 games last season after a couple of years battling injuries. How is Marshall in his patience to find the hole? Can he pick up his assignments to protect Cousins? I hope Marshall does well!

  2. pillenwerfers - Aug 11, 2016 at 8:36 AM

    Can you imagine a 220 lb. back who has 4.3 speed swinging out of the backfield on third down? No linebacker in the NFL could keep up with him.

    • Rich Tandler - Aug 11, 2016 at 9:52 AM

      Then why could SEC players keep him under control pretty well? I recommend tamping down the expectations some.

      • ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© - Aug 11, 2016 at 10:15 AM

        I’m blowing the whistle, Rich.

        No tampering, err tamping, with expectations in the preseason.

      • colorofmyskinz - Aug 11, 2016 at 10:38 AM

        Rich with all due respect, his college yards per rush average was 5.1 yards. In 2012 when he played the entire season, 14 games, prior to injury, his yards per rush was 6.5 yards. I don’t see that as “SEC players keeping him under control pretty well”. When he returned to the field there was this guy called Gurly, drafted 10th overall first round pick, that kind of got in his way. I would take 4.0 yards per rush and so would Chris Cooley, he just said it this morning. Durability is his only issue for an injury in 2013, after that he was in the shadow of a top 10 draft pick.

        • Trey Gregory - Aug 11, 2016 at 12:16 PM

          Durability is NOT Keith Marshal’s only issue. Those numbers would be great for the NFL but aren’t that great for college. Gurly was gone last year, Chubb was injured, and Marshall was healthy but he still didn’t do much and lasted until the late 7th. And I’m really sorry to break this to you but Cooley is an entertainer. It’s his job to say fringe things and watch the phones light up. Bringing his name into this really didn’t do what you thought it would.

        • kenlinkins - Aug 11, 2016 at 3:10 PM

          I like Keith Marshal but my concern is that at Ga his long TD runs padded his avg. a bit and most of his long runs were the deep hand off type with one cut, between the tackles where no one placed a hand on him. That is something you just do not see much of at the NFL level as everyone is fast and not fooled so easy with a simple cut back. Most of his long runs looked like a middle punt return where the defense is spread out a bit. I am not saying that Keith Marshal is not a good RB, I just want to see him at NFL game speed with live tackling. Good luck to Keith tonight, I hope he does really well and turns out to be the steal of the draft but I am not looking for big numbers from him.

  3. John - Aug 11, 2016 at 10:47 AM

    Where have you heard Marshall is turning heads. Sure, he has speed bus does Rashad Ross and what has that gotten him. Regardless the injuries, he has not done anything for any scout to be excited about, hence late 7th rounder. Were he all that, he would have been the man at Georgia (last year) as it was he did not get the carries, even when he was healthy last year. He has speed but no vision and no moves.

    • Trey Gregory - Aug 11, 2016 at 12:22 PM

      Apparently he’s been doing well the past couple weeks in practice. I heard McCloughan singing his praises to the “Movin the Chains” crew on NFL Radio. Inwoukd expect McCloughan to compliment his own draft pick, but that’s just one source. Pat and Jim (from the show) also seemed pretty impressed at what they saw.

      I’m with you on the guy. I have zero expectation for him. Just trying to let you know that there have been reports the past week or two that he’s looked good in practice. I need to see it in a game before I even come close to getting interested, but he is 220lbs and runs a 4.3. Which is a very basic way of saying, good for our power scheme if he can play. We just need to see about that vision and durability.

      • bangkokben - Aug 11, 2016 at 4:38 PM

        Yes, the worm has turned in the 3rd running back race. Marshall, who had been — as predicted — injured for most of the off season has gained his expected spot during the past week. So what? We all know that had this been last year, he would’ve had a slight chance at making the team due to Morris, Jones, Thompson, and Young. Now without a fullback, no Morris, no veterans, no experience, and no higher draft picks ahead of him; he would have to be made out of glass or suck to NOT make the team.

        As far as former Redskins who evaluate the team, there is no one better than Chris Cooley and in fact no one even comes close. Entertainer or not, he is right about the team and specific players at an alarming rate — close to 90% of the time in my estimation. Even when you think he’s wrong, give it some time and he’s probably right. Having said that, I don’t think he has said anything positive about Marshall. I don’t listen to him all the time, but when I’m in the car and he’s on the schedule, my radio is tuned to his station. As far as taking 4.0 yards per carry, what Redskins fan wouldn’t take that? As long as that’s not four runs for no gain and a twenty-yard burst on 3rd and 21.

        • ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© - Aug 11, 2016 at 4:43 PM

          I hope Cooley isn’t right about Josh Doctson.


        • bangkokben - Aug 11, 2016 at 5:04 PM

          Yeah, I heard the quote or at least most of it while he was saying it. And he did give an out. Said it could be the injury and followed it up with this:

          “It’s a red-shirt year,” Cooley speculated. “It‘s so hard, even as a first-round pick — unless McCloughan says ‘When he’s in, you game plan for him’ — for a coaching staff to go Garcon, Jackson, Crowder, Reed, Vernon Davis — who’s having a spectacular camp right now — Chris Thompson, Ryan Grant, Rashad Ross, [and] now we start game-planning for this guy that we’ve never seen.

          “It’s not helping [Doctson],” Cooley said. “I mean, it’s not hurting him in the long run of his career, and at any point he can come in and have a couple breakout games or a breakout game and Jay [Gruden] and Sean [McVay] will say yup, got to feed the guy. But for the time being, I see him as coming in early and having maybe some red zone package, maybe a heavy personnel package. Remember last year in heavy personnel groupings, I think they’d bring Ryan Grant in. That’s probably Doctson’s role. Play-action, heavy, see what he can get to. I mean, he may change everyone’s mind when he steps on the field, but right now, [being off the field is] not helping him.”

          So, I’m thinking he’s right in the later stuff.

        • Trey Gregory - Aug 11, 2016 at 6:38 PM

          I don’t live in the market anymore and so I don’t really hear what Cooley says unless it makes headlines or you guys talk about it. So that should give some perspective on my feelings toward him. He was a great player and, from what I’ve heard, he’s a really good analysts. I have plenty of respect for Cooley. But, it is a fact that his job is to get ratings. And, for example, comments like what he made about RG3 or the above comments about Doctson are to stir the pot, get people talking about him, and light up the phone lines. Cooley is brilliant, but breaking news: sitting out of training camp is bad for rookies. I mean, come on. I don’t blame him, that’s his job now. But I do seperste the genuine analysis from the hot takes.

          The injury sucks and is unfortunate. But everything Cooley said in that second part is true. This is essentially a “red shirt” learning year for Doctson. He doesn’t need to be on the field right now. It would be better if he was, but it’s not critical. And did Cooley mention that Doctson tried to hide the injury from the trainers but they noticed and pulled him from practice because they want to get this taken care of so it doesn’t flair up later? Does that sound like something a player would do if he doesn’t love football? Tendinitis isn’t something that just goes away if you tough it out.

          Anyway. I agree with what you said about Marshall. He would be a practice team guy or a straight cut on almost every NFL team. Maybe literally every team but us. Our RB group is THAT bad. Maybe he’s top 3 here but that’s like saying you’re the thinnest kid at fat camp. Nothing to brag about. I was just answering John’s question about where this new found hype for Marshall was coming from.

        • bangkokben - Aug 12, 2016 at 10:39 AM

          I get you don’t live in the market as many of us don’t. That is why I added the context of the conversation. I have a difference of opinion of the “hot takes” Cooley makes. Cooley is paid to give an opinion and he does that — quite well actually but especially regarding what he sees during the games. Then, he is usually asked questions about general Redskin stuff for which he answers. Of course, the station doesn’t mind when other media outlets glom onto something slightly controversial he says and make it headlines while not always providing the context of what he says. There is also a big difference in language that is spoken versus writing an opinion piece. The way both stories you mentioned were reported are as if he was Stephen A. Smith or Skip Bayless spouting off which is quite contrary to listening to it live. When listening live you get the impression that Cooley is trying to read Doctson’s body language and right now Doctson ins’t enjoying football and that might be the injury. At the same time, you can clearly quote him as questioning Doctson. So which is going to make someone’s headlines? The same thing in the Griffin comments.

          The point I’m trying to make is not to defend Cooley but rather an indictment against the media “finding” a story — which it is but not to the degree that the stories become.

          Then, the stuff you mentioned about Doctson trying to play through it came out on HIS show by the GM (I believe, on the same day maybe within an hour of making those comments). Again, the story is the negative stuff Cooley said about Doctson, a separate story on what the GM said, and probably nothing linking the two nor anything else about what the GM said.

          So again, in the age of getting more clicks, its’ find the guy with a mike in his mouth and catch him saying something. Then write a story. The same thing was done after every Griffin sound bite. IT’S NEWS!

  4. John - Aug 11, 2016 at 10:53 AM

    My money is on Robert Kelley. Some players are not all that in practice but come game time they perform. He at least looks smooth on the tape I’ve seen of him.

    • redskins12thman - Aug 11, 2016 at 4:01 PM

      Has Kelley looked the same both without and with pads?

  5. hail74 - Aug 11, 2016 at 1:12 PM

    I know this Is of topic but I saw this quote over at PFT and immediately thought of some of the complaints about our offense last year. Not trying to start anything, just good perspective of the league from a supposed bright young mind in the coaching game. The whole league is 10 yards and under. That’s what it is,” Gase said, via the Miami Herald. “Nobody is going down the field. There’s one team that does it really, maybe two. Pittsburgh and Arizona. Hold onto the ball and they chuck it down the field. More teams than not, it’s 10 yards and under. That’s where all the passing game is. The d-ends are too good. If you want to stand back there and have your quarterbacks get your brains beat out, go at it.”

    • Trey Gregory - Aug 11, 2016 at 3:06 PM

      It’s a good conversation to bring up. I’m not trying to sound like a jerk, but those complaints are really just stupid. Yes, a lot of other team (including some of the best in the league) throw a lot of short passes. A big reason why is because that’s what the defense is giving up. Also because of the strength of the offensive personnel vs the weakness of the defense.

      A lot of defenses are playing with either 2 deep safties or a cover 3. The only real way to attack a cover 3 is to have 4 WRs go deep. But you 1) need 4 WRs capable of that and 2) have to run 4 WR sets. Which means probably not TE or FB to help in pass protection. So a thin OLine has to hold up in protection long enough. Not every team can do that. It makes more sense to attack a LB or the SS with a TE or shifty slot guy in the flat.

      With 2 deep safties the obvious defensive weakness is the middle of the field, usually short/intermediate routs. The corners will lock the sidelines down either in man or zone and the safties are up top to help. That means Reed, Crowder, our a RB only have to beat 2-3 LBs to get a quick 5-10 yard pass. Because the safties shouldn’t be able to react fast enough and Reed and Crowder should be able to beat linebackers.

      So, people may love the deep ball because it’s fun and all that. But the most prudent play is that short pass. It’s not settling because they’re incapable of throwing it deep, it’s the right call. Of course they’ll design a play to go deep every now and then to keep the defense honest. Just like we’ll run to keep the defense honest. But this offense will live and die with short precession passes and there’s nothing wrong with that. People who complain about it should seriously go back and watch Joe Montana or Tom Brady work. A lot of short precession passes that just carve up defenses.

      • kenlinkins - Aug 11, 2016 at 4:52 PM

        IMO most NFL DC’s have figured out that it is harder for an offense to execute 15 play drives without a mistake then 7 or 8 play drives, so they now start off in two deep zones giving up short pass plays. Most NFL DC’s are looking for the correct down and distance to attack after the offense has made a mistake (i.e. dropped pass, off sides, holding call, etc). Even if the offense doesn’t give the defense a gift they still must execute the Red Zone where the defense no longer has concerns with over the top pass plays. IMO the “dink and dunk” plays are here to stay.

    • bangkokben - Aug 11, 2016 at 4:50 PM

      That’s what I was saying last year. Seattle and Carolina are other teams that take shots downfield more often than most. It’s why QB ratings are so much higher than they use to be, more 4000 yard passers, as well as why there are improvements in just about every passing stat. It has been trending this way for a generation, yet Griffin fans wanted to make a point of it last season. Cleveland will likely be a team that takes more shots downfield for two reasons. Robert has a great deep ball and he lacks the experience to methodically move a team downfield with quick passes.

      Seriously, the talk about it last year was as if they just started watching football after a 35-year hiatus.

      • Trey Gregory - Aug 11, 2016 at 6:55 PM

        Good points Ken. The worst thing a DC can do is consistently get burnt deep.

        To Ben’s point: notice too that Cam had a good OLine and both Cam and Wilson are run threats. Which mean the defense MUST keep an extra defender in the box to spy the QB which adds a mathematical advantage to the offense in the passing game. Wilson threw a lot of those deep balls after the play broke down and he was rolling out. He starts running, the defenders run up to contain, and leave their DBs in man coverage. That’s when you attack and go deep.

        Also notice Pittsburg and Arizona have two of the best WR corps in the game (the steelers did last year, before Bryant’s suspension) and two very good rushing attacks. They have enough WRs capable of getting deep quickly and beating coverage. Then those rushing attacks work the same way as Cam and Wilson. Defenses are going to play closer and have an extra man in the box when facing Leveon Bell. NONE of this has anything to do with the scheme or QBs ability to throw the ball.

        Lol and you’re right. I never thought about it as if they hadn’t watched football in 30 years but it makes sense. I always looked at it as people who don’t understand the game outside of: (in caveman voice) TDs good, INTs bad, more yards good, less yards bad. RG3 had a gorgeous deep ball and I really hope he somehow does well in Cleveland. But so far he’s shown zero aptitude for quickly executing an NFL offense. Cousins is a blessing that some people just don’t know how to accept. People can be both RG3 and Cousins fans. There’s no rule against it.

  6. goback2rfk - Aug 11, 2016 at 2:16 PM

    Who cares about these Running Backs. It looks like we have one of the worse backfields in the NFL but that does not matter because we are a pass first run second offense. Cousins is going to have to get close to 4000 yards if we are going to be playoff contenders again this year. In the playoffs, Jackson and out elite recieving core is the big threat.

    • Trey Gregory - Aug 11, 2016 at 3:17 PM

      I agree that our passing attack is far more important than, but the run is still valuable. If I had to choose between an elite run or pass attack, I would take the pass. But we still need to be able to run somewhere around average to have a real shot. I’m not talking about a fluky playoff run. I mean a real shot at being competitors for the NFC.

      You have to be able to protect leads and run out the clock. You also need the defense to be threatened just enough so that the safties play a little closer and they keep players in the box. It’s really just about math. And if they can use more defenders to stop the pass because they don’t need to worry about the run, then even the best passing attacks will struggle.

      These RBs have potential. Especially Jones and Thompson. But injuries are a huge concern. Even Keith Marshall (who I’ve consistently said I expect nothing from) has potential as a rotational RB if he can stay healthy. But if they start going down, it’s going to get ugly. And if Jones/Marshall end up proving they don’t have the patience and vision to play then we’re not making the playoffs. Thompson can’t handle the load by himself. That’s why I’m still hoping for a vet to come in.

      The line obviously has a lot to do with this but the RBs have to stay healthy and find the holes. I still don’t think this is a playoff contender, but a solid running attack could go a long way to change that. I don’t even mean a great running attack. Just average.

      • bangkokben - Aug 11, 2016 at 5:05 PM

        Mark September 13 on your calendar. That is Pierre Thomas signing day.

        • Trey Gregory - Aug 11, 2016 at 6:41 PM

          Ha. I already did. I’m waiting for further roster cuts and Sep 13 with great anticipation.

          What are the chances the Vikings find a couple young guys they really like, cut Adrian Peterson, and he comes to us on a vet min prove it deal? 😒

  7. lezziemcdykerson - Aug 11, 2016 at 9:11 PM

    We let Aldrick No Hands Robinson put up a hunndo on us? I am soooo confused. Yes it was against the twos but those are rotational players they need to play better. Yes I also know this is the FIRST PRESEASON game but it’s not like Julio was beating us. ALDRICK????

    • Trey Gregory - Aug 12, 2016 at 12:45 AM

      I got a good laugh and thought of you when Paul dropped that pass. I’m sure it will be a reoccurring theme every time a ball comes his way this season.

      I don’t remember Robinson even playing enough for me to have an opinion about him. I remember that TD pass he caught Thanksgiving 2012 but that’s about it. But he definitely isn’t a star receiver. You’re right, we had some rotational guys out there and they have to play better.

      We certainly shouldn’t overreact to one preseason game. Schaub is a veteran QB who carved up a team of roomies or 2nd stringers. Those rotational guys would still have the 1s on the field when they come in. But I did not like what I saw from a couple guys. Particularly Ihenacho. I’ve always hated his cover skills (or lack there of) and he showed just how poor they are against nobodies tonight. I also thought Keith Marshal looked just bad. I couldn’t find any redeeming qualities in his play. Kelly had a little good, and a little bad, but I could at least see the potential. I need to go back and rewatch but Phillips looked pretty bad from what I can remember too.

      Again, don’t want to over react. But some of these guys need to wake up.

      • lezziemcdykerson - Aug 12, 2016 at 4:39 PM

        I couldn’t watch I live out of market. Did Greg Toler play?

        • Trey Gregory - Aug 12, 2016 at 7:02 PM

          Yeah. He came in eventually. Dunbar was the one who Robinson beat up real bad though.

  8. kenlinkins - Aug 11, 2016 at 9:40 PM

    Will those of you who had Kelley and Brown in the RB’s betting pool please come pick up your money!

  9. ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© - Aug 11, 2016 at 10:49 PM

    I have but one word to say, and that word is, “Poop.”
    ~ Archives

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