RICHMOND — Chris Thompson sniffled as he spoke, trying in vain to steady his shaky voice. But it was too late. The emotions rose to the surface without warning for all the world to see. And there was nothing the Washington Redskins running back could do but let the tears flow.
Nine months ago, Thompson was here in this very spot, contemplating how to recover, both emotionally and physically, from an injury he never saw coming. And now, the elder statesman of the Redskins running back room found himself reeling from the sudden absence of teammate Derrius Guice.
“This is my first time ever shedding tears for a player,” Thompson said Saturday afternoon, roughly 24 hours after an MRI exam revealed Guice had torn the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during Thursday night’s preseason loss in New England. “Our group, we’ve come so close to each other in such a short period of time. . . . And I guess because I’m the older guy in the room now, it hurts even more because I feel like that’s my little brother. That’s my dude. I got to do everything I can to help those guys grow. And just to see him going down was just a terrible feeling.”
Washington officially placed Guice on injured reserve, along with tight end Manasseh Garner, who also tore an ACL in the Redskins’ 26-17 loss to the Patriots.
On the pivotal play that ultimately cost Guice his season — a 34-yard first-quarter run, complete with a stiff arm and a spin move — the rookie showcased the attributes that made his selection at No. 59 overall a steal for Washington’s front office. Despite the long gain being called back because of a penalty, fans got a glimpse of just how special he could be.
By the next morning, Guice was pretending the truth wasn’t what it was, that there still would be a chance to suit up on Sundays and more opportunities to show off his skills. He had wanted a second opinion, any sort of assurance that the initial diagnosis was wrong. But by the time he entered his hotel room Friday morning, he could no longer hide from reality.
“You all right?” his roommate and fellow running back Martez Carter asked. Instinctively, Guice said yes, but soon he replied with the truth.
Carter, a Monroe, La., native, had heard of the Baton Rouge-born running back long before Guice was electrifying Tiger Stadium at LSU. And, like Thompson, Carter felt helpless.
“I tried to help him cope with it,” Carter said. “He doesn’t have any family here, so I’m like his brother.”
“I knew Derrius was going to have a great year, man,” he continued, shaking his head. “He’s an exceptional athlete. He’s just good at what he does, and for him to take that loss, it hurts me just as much as it hurt him. And it hurt the whole running back room.”
Stunned belief gave way to a flood of emotion on the field by Saturday. “To just see him go down before the season even got started, before he could even get a taste of the field . . . it’s just tough,” said Thompson, who broke his right fibula against New Orleans last November. “I just hate to see any of my boys go down like that.
“. . . Yesterday was the first time I saw him and I felt him faking the happiness, and that’s not something I want to see out of my guys.”
Redskins Coach Jay Gruden confirmed the obvious before practice: Losing Guice is a significant blow, not only for the promising rookie, but also for the Redskins’ seemingly improved offense. But even though it will be difficult to replace Guice’s playmaking ability and pass-blocking efficiency, Gruden said the team has no plans at this time to sign a veteran back. “We’re pretty good at the running back spot,” he said.
His running back room now consists of Thompson, Carter, veteran Rob Kelley, Samaje Perine, Kapri Bibbs and Byron Marshall. But the players said the competition between them only made them collectively better.
In fact, Kelley credited Guice for pushing him on the practice field: “Now it’s time for me to go on to another level, just to show the team that it has another guy that’s part of that running back group that they can depend on.”
The remaining healthy running backs say they’re also committed to helping Guice’s recovery. Together they form more than just a position group, Carter said. It’s a brotherhood.
“All of us, we look out for one another. There’s no one who puts themselves before the whole group,” he said, “We’re going to be with Derrius through the whole process and hope for a speedy recovery.”
Kareem Copeland contributed to this report.