The timing of the move cut a sharp contrast to the announcement, two hours earlier, of quarterback Alex Smith’s retirement. Love said the two bonded while rehabbing together at the team facility in 2019. Smith, 36, chose to walk away after completing an arduous comeback from the right leg injury he suffered in November 2018. Love, more than a dozen years younger, is still waiting for his moment.
Four years ago, Love seemed destined for stardom. He rushed for 2,118 yards for Stanford in 2017 and finished as the Heisman Trophy runner-up, but he didn’t declare for the draft. He made the surprising decision to return to school partly to stay with his team and partly to finish a degree in human biology because he planned to become a pediatrician after football.
The next year, ankle injuries limited Love to 10 games and 739 yards, and he averaged 4.5 yards per carry as a senior compared with 8.1 as a junior. He tore the ACL in his right knee on the last play of his last college game. The running back once seen as the best in his class began to slip down draft boards.
During his rookie year, Love needed another cleanup surgery, which delayed his return to the field. During the offseason, he trained with personal strength and conditioning coach Devin Salley and slowly felt his stride and footwork improve. By mid-February last year, Love finally felt close to 100 percent.
Early on, the new Washington coaching staff took it slow, mixing in regular “vet days” during training camp. But Love was inactive for the first few weeks of the season and placed on injured reserve in early October because, as Coach Ron Rivera said at the time, “His knee’s been swelling on him the last couple days.” About a month later, Washington opened the window to activate him from IR. There was optimism he could return — Rivera noted Love’s quickness and burst were still there and said “the opportunity to get him back on the field is coming soon” — but he never did.
On Nov. 18, following another setback, Rivera said the team would shut him down for the season. Now, the team has moved on. Washington no longer has any running backs who predate last season.
Before the draft begins April 29, Washington has four running backs on the active roster. The team’s featured back this season figures to be Antonio Gibson, last year’s third-round pick, and the top complement is J.D. McKissic, a two-way threat who excelled last season. The coaching staff likes Peyton Barber, a short-yardage hammer, and Lamar Miller, a veteran signed off Chicago’s practice squad in December. The team’s lone running back on a futures contract is Jonathan Williams, a former Arkansas standout.