Alex Smith said he felt extremely confident about the run game at the end of training camp, saying if any position group could handle the loss of a quality player such as Derrius Guice, it would be running back. He lauded the depth at the position.
Then, during the second preseason game Thursday, both Samaje Perine and Byron Marshall went down.
Suddenly, that deep room was left with Rob Kelley, Kapri Bibbs and undrafted rookie Martez Carter as the only healthy backs available to finish the game. Chris Thompson has yet to make his debut as he slowly returns from a broken leg suffered in 2017.
Fans inside FedEx Field quickly watched their nightmare scenario play out, having flashbacks to last season when Kelley and Thompson were both lost for the season, leaving the run game as one of the worst in the league.
“For us, it kind of sucked,” Kelley said. “In this league, it happens. We can’t sit here and act like, ‘Oh, we’re just plagued with these injuries.’ It’s going to happen everywhere.
“The guys that are healthy, we’ve got to make sure we continue to get better so this team can go in the right direction. … Some of those guys, I know how it feels, because last year I was kind of plagued with injuries. One after another after another. I let those guys know, I’ve been there before and you’re going to be all right. Just take the necessary steps to get back. Once you get back, you’ll be okay. Don’t rush yourself back. Come back when you’re able to come back, not when you feel pressured.”
The Redskins seemed content with the backs on the roster after Guice went down, but the organization may have to rethink things based on the severity of the injuries. Perine hurt his ankle at the tail end of 30-yard run on the second Washington series of the game and never returned. He was seen leaving the locker room after the game in a walking boot, although Coach Jay Gruden said after the game that it appears Perine is okay, having only suffered a twisted ankle. Marshall was evaluated for a lower leg injury in the first half and also never returned, although Gruden downplayed his injury postgame as well.
Outside of Perine’s 30-yard run, Carter had the most success against the Jets with 45 yards on seven carries. He bounced outside with a pair of jump cuts for a 33-yard run.
The team will need more from the run game once the regular season begins, and getting more out of Kelley would seem to be the priority. He ran for just 17 yards on seven carries, but did have a nice 13-yard reception. The backs had a strong showing in the passing game overall, as Bibbs caught seven balls for 47 yards.
“I don’t even know, it’s just a bad situation,” Thompson said. “We had two guys go down and when we got back in the locker room, I could see it kind of hurt Perine and I never seen him, like, emotional. So it kind of hurt him not being out there. I thought Byron was okay because he was running around and stuff, but then he wasn’t able to go back in the game.”
The Redskins finished last season with the 28th-ranked run game in the league, averaging 90.5 yards per game. That’s why the organization invested a second-round pick in Guice. The idea was to have him form a one-two punch with third-down back Thompson, but Guice never made it out of the first preseason game and Thompson continues to be held out as he gets back to full strength.
The free agent market isn’t full of promising options. Many of the available players are either past their prime, have lengthy injury histories or have not had productive careers. Some of the top free agents are Eddie Lacy, Jamaal Charles, Adrian Peterson, Orleans Darkwa and the retired DeMarco Murray.
“We’re still in the process of still trying to figure that out,” Gruden said of the running back situation. “Wanted to get Samaje some good looks and he got hurt on his first run. . . . Wanted to try to get a good look at Byron, and he kind of got dinged up there. Rob Kelley got a few touches and obviously Martez had a couple good looks. Kapri Bibbs continues to be consistent in his job running routes and running the ball.
“It’ll be a tough deal for us to figure that all out, but we will.”