A slimmed-down Rob Kelly is likely to remain the Washington Redskins’ starting running back even though some big names could be joining the team to bolster its decimated backfield.
Amid four injuries in their backfield, the Redskins are talking with Adrian Peterson, Jamaal Charles and former Giants running back Orleans Darkwa and could sign one or two of them. But Kelley, the former “Fat Rob” who lost weight and added speed to his repertoire, is still the front-runner to start Week 1 at the Arizona Cardinals.
Washington lost second-round pick Derrius Guice to a season-ending torn ACL, won’t have Samaje Perine and Byron Marshall for and extended period of time because of lower-leg injuries and waived undrafted free agent Martez Carter with an injury designation. That necessitated meetings with Peterson and Charles and a workout for Darkwa, though coach Jay Gruden has enough confidence in Kelley to consider any additions just a way to replenish some depth.
“We’re not looking for a starter right now,” Gruden said. “We’ve got Rob in-house, obviously Chris Thompson, Kapri Bibbs has done a good job, Samaje I don’t think is going to be very long at all. So we’ve got four backs right there. It’s a matter of if we were to have another injury and we’d have to cover our bases, we could bring one of those guys in after the third preseason game and get them ready for Arizona.”
On the first day of camp, Gruden was only sure of one thing: that third-down back Chris Thompson would be on the roster and figure prominently into the offense as he returns from a broken fibula. Kelley, a 2016 undrafted free agent who emerged as Washington’s No. 1 running back during his rookie year and started 2017 on top of the depth chart, cut his hair short, added more muscle and looks quicker to Gruden at a svelte 222 pounds.
“It was time for a change,” Kelley said of trimming his dreadlocks. “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 and stuff like that. Just change within and the hair was just like a statement.”
Kelley got the first chance to run with the first-team offense in the Redskins’ second preseason game and is trying to focus on showing his best and not the competition for the starting role.
“Early on I thought about it a lot, but now I try not to think about it,” Kelley said. “I don’t try and put too much on myself that potentially distracts me from actually getting better.”
When Guice looked like the starter, Kelley fielded questions about taking snaps at fullback and helping out on special teams. He was willing to do whatever it took to make the team, though the 25-year-old Tulane product didn’t rule out winning back the starting job he lost last season because of injuries.
“There’s competition whether you think it or not,” Kelley said. “I just make sure I go out there and I make a few plays that the catch the coaches’ eyes and stuff like that and put myself in a great position.”
He’s in a great position now by default, though Gruden also said Kelley has had a great training camp. Kelley ran for just 17 yards on seven carries last week against the Jets and the bevvy of injuries created a need to bring in more bodies for the rest of the preseason.
“If something else happens, we’re going to be really, really, really thin, so we just want to make sure we’re covering all our bases right now,” Gruden said.
Kelley probably has the Redskins covered as far as a feature back heading into the season, even if he was considered on the roster bubble a month ago. That’s for the best for Kelley, who is no stranger to overcoming odds and winning a competition as an underdog.
“I think the hurdles just make me a better player,” Kelley said. “It’s the team’s job to keep on getting competition, to keep pushing the envelope, so it doesn’t make a difference (and I’ve) still got to work as hard as I can.”