PHILADELPHIA — Cameras encircled Washington Redskins running back Adrian Peterson. Until Sunday, when the team didn’t play him in its season-opening loss to the Eagles, it seemed fair to qualify him as a “star.” He led the team with 1,042 yards last season, and his teammates named him offensive MVP.
But Sunday, the Redskins followed through on a decision they hinted at earlier in the week and benched Peterson in favor of Derrius Guice, Chris Thompson and Wendell Smallwood, who was signed last week after Philadelphia released him.
Peterson, after the game, said he knew about this decision for some time leading up to the game. The Redskins needed more bodies for special teams, and Smallwood provided one. The 34-year-old counseled Guice, the new starter, and seemed demure when asked about his reaction to the demotion, repeating the phrase, “I can just control the things that I can control.” Yet he did not hide the fact that he didn’t enjoy being held out.
“Of course it’s not a role I want,” he said. “I’m 13 years in, and I’ve still got it. I’ve shown that, of course. I can play the game. But at the end of the day, I’m not the owner. I’m just a player. So when they call me up, they call me up. I’ll be ready to play.”
Several Redskins players are not happy about the decision to sit Peterson, multiple people with knowledge of the situation said.
Right tackle Morgan Moses did not hide his displeasure.
“You don’t have too many walking Hall of Famers on your football team,” Moses said. “I commend him, because it’s obviously harder on him than me, being able to deal with just sitting on the sideline and stuff like that. But obviously, we think he’s a hell of a football player.”
Last week, Washington Coach Jay Gruden named Guice the starting running back and said the offense would run through him. Guice, who missed last season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee, was always expected to be the team’s top back once he was healthy again. He and Thompson are more versatile backs and considered to be better fits for Gruden’s offense than Peterson, whose running style is more vertical than horizontal. Peterson doesn’t have as much experience as a pass catcher as he does as a runner.
“I think it will be week-to-week,” Gruden said when asked how much Peterson will play this season, adding that Peterson and Guice are both early-down backs and he doesn’t always need two of those. “So if we have a game where we think we can run the ball 55 times a game in an I formation, then sure, I’ll get him up.”
The Eagles themselves didn’t expect the decision. Safety Malcolm Jenkins said he was “surprised” to see Peterson on the sidelines. It didn’t change the game plan at all, he added.
“We thought he would probably be the second back or have like a smaller role,” Jenkins said. “But [we] didn’t expect him to be inactive.”
Guice said he and Peterson talked “all week” about how to approach his first NFL game as a starter. He called the veteran “very helpful” and “a great leader” in the meeting room and at practice. Guice didn’t say it, and he’s in a difficult spot because he and Peterson compete for playing time, but the young running back seemed to share the sentiments of his teammates. Peterson isn’t done.
“He has a lot of juice left,” Moses said. “Hopefully this is just a one-week thing and we can move forward.”
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