RICHMOND — Call him “Fit Rob.”
For Rob Kelley, the old “Fat Rob” is gone, melted away. The nickname, which he said he earned “eating a lot of food” before his senior year at Tulane, was once inscribed on his backpack by his running backs coach. At the end of his senior year, Kelley said he weighed 249 pounds, but when Washington signed him as an undrafted free agent in 2016, he was listed at 228. Now he’s slimmed down again.
“It comes with the change within,” he said Thursday. “I’m lighter, I’m faster. . . . I’m 221 pounds.”
Kelley demurred when asked about not being called “Fat Rob” anymore, saying he just wants to play and anyone who called him that nickname was just “their opinion.”
Last season, Kelley struggled with injuries but started all seven games he appeared in and totaled 194 yards on 62 carries with three touchdowns. Against Minnesota in November, Kelley sprained his medial collateral ligament in his knee and aggravated an already sprained ankle, causing him to miss the rest of the season.
Now, he’s healthy and back with a new look. He cut his hair as a physical representation that this year, actions mean more than words.
“It was time for a change,” Kelley said. “I think it was like a bold statement showing that I’m ready to change, rather than just coming in and talking about it how much I’m going to change.”
To succeed, Kelley needs to stay on the field. His injury history cannot be a predictor of his present. On Thursday, he took the lion’s share of the first-team reps and he does not want to relinquish them to others in the team’s loaded running back room.
Along with Kelley, the Redskins have Samaje Perine, the 2017 fourth-rounder out of Oklahoma; Chris Thompson, who has toted 60-plus carries for the team the last two seasons; Byron Marshall, who the team signed last year off Philadelphia’s practice squad; and Derrius Guice, this year’s second-round pick from LSU. The Redskins also have two other backs, Martez Carter and Kapri Bibbs, trying to make the roster.
Coach Jay Gruden was noncommittal when asked which running back would garner the majority of the carries. He said “that’s a great question” and said the team still needs to settle on “one, one and a half . . . or two guys” to get the bulk of the carries, and that the team would probably only dress three on game day.
“The preseason games will tell a lot,” he added. “They’ve all proven they’re worthy of getting the ball, you know, now it’s just a matter of trying to find the one that’s most.” He paused. “That could change week to week. You know, who knows.”
Kelley has worked on special teams and his pass-catching to add value and not allow defenses to expect a pass only when Thompson comes into the huddle.
“You close the offense down, basically, if you can’t catch the ball,” he said.
Kelley added that he hopes to make a few runs and catches in training camp that catch his coaches’ eyes and shows them he’s fully recovered from his injuries. He also wants to prove he can take care of his body, and he changed up his approach this offseason to focus on prevention as much as anything else. He sees the players around him and understands what he has to do now.
“It’s the team’s job to keep on getting competition, to keep pushing the envelope, so, I mean, it doesn’t make a difference,” Kelley said. “[I’ve] still got to work as hard as I can. . . . There’s always a competition, whether you think it or not.”
Josh Norman shaken up, but appears okay
About midway through practice, Josh Norman leaped to intercept Alex Smith’s underthrown pass intended for Brian Quick, but Quick batted it away and Norman landed hard, seemingly hitting his shoulders and head. His helmet popped off. Norman sat up, dazed, and then eventually made his way off the field.
On the sideline, he crouched down and two trainers sprinted over. One gave him a sopping wet towel and the other thumbed Norman’s eyelids open, seemingly to check his pupils. It is unclear whether Norman returned to the practice field. Gruden had said earlier this practice would be “light,” so it may not be cause for concern even if he didn’t return.
After the final whistle blew, Norman spoke with and instructed second-year defensive back Kenny Ladler on techniques and he looked unhampered. After, Norman walked underneath a white tent for an approximately 20-minute television interview and then signed autographs. He appeared fine.
Maurice Harris had an impressive day
With Josh Doctson sidelined for a few days with a shoulder injury, wide receiver Maurice Harris saw more reps during Thursday’s practice. And he didn’t disappoint.
The 6-2, 200-pound pass catcher provided the play of the day when he skied high and hauled in a 15-yard catch between cornerbacks Fabian Moreau and Greg Stroman near the far sideline. The acrobatic catch — the latest in a string of flashy moves from the physically gifted Harris — got the crowd buzzing.
“The thing about Mo is he can play any position, and he is very quarterback-friendly,” Gruden said. “He’s got strong hands and he’s probably — he could be our best route-runner on our team. He does everything exactly right, he knows how to set up a defender, he’s strong enough to get away from press coverage and like I said, quarterbacks love him. He’s a big, long target, he’s really good after the catch. So, love Maurice Harris. … We have a pretty good group of wide receivers here that’s a log jam for that fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh spot, so we’ll see what happens.”
Harris is competing with Quick, Robert Davis and seventh-round pick Trey Quinn for the final wide receiver spots.
A focus on special teams
On a light practice day, the Redskins spent a large portion of practice working with their punt and field goal units. Kicker Dustin Hopkins stop-watched punter Tress Way as the unit tried to fine-tune its timing. Hopkins drilled kicks from about 40 yards out, repeatedly sending them through the uprights but over the netting in the goal-posts.
In punt return drills, the Redskins worked in running backs Chris Thompson and Rob Kelley, as well as wide receivers Harris, Quinn and Jamison Crowder. Crowder, a 2015 fourth-round draft pick out of Duke, took the most reps and will likely reassume the same role he held last season, when he returned 27 punts for 171 yards, a 6.3-yard average.
For everyone else trying to make the 53-man roster, it served as an important session to show coaches what else they could do aside from their primary position.
“If you’re not really in that competition of being like a starter, I think special teams is a place where you want to be,” said Kelley. “Even if you win a competition, I think it’s also a good backup plan to go out and perform on special teams.”
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