Antonio Gibson sat at the Las Angeles Rams' 35-yard line patiently waiting for Kyle Allen to throw him the ball. Gibson had done his job; he acted like he was going to help the offensive line in pass protection before slipping away towards the sideline. All he needed to do now was make the reception and turn upfield.
Allen flipped the ball to the running back, and that's where Gibson's instincts took over. "Boy, he's quick," the announcer said, as Gibson followed his blockers, evaded defenders and barreled his way to a 13-yard gain. It's exactly what you would expect from a player who spent most of his time in college as a wide receiver, and Randy Jordan wants more of that from Washington's running backs.
It might not be conventional to revamp a group around two players who had little to no previous experience at the position, but the results don't lie: Gibson and his running mate J.D. McKissic proved to be a versatile tag team that frustrated defenses. It was a good start, but now it's time to continue that development in Year 2 of Scott Turner’s scheme. Both Gibson and McKissic have room to grow, and it will help Washington deliver on its promise of creating a more explosive offense.
"I think that's something we haven't really tapped into a lot," Jordan said of Gibson as a pass-catcher. "I think the biggest thing for him is utilizing his ability to catch the ball, because he has caught the ball in college."
Gibson is not a stranger to putting up numbers as a receiver, as he did so effectively for Memphis in 2019. He was second on the team with 735 yards and eight touchdowns that season, and he averaged 19.3 yards per reception.
But now Gibson is a running back, and even though Turner likes to move players around to utilize their skills, learning how to operate in the backfield has been his primary responsibility. Gibson made a joke to Jordan during a meeting that he almost forgot how to play the position, so Jordan wants him to focus on smaller details like where his splits are when he gets put in motion so he can reintroduce himself to playing at that spot.
Gibson has already shown that he can handle an expanded role in the passing game on a limited basis last season. The biggest sample size came against the Baltimore Ravens, when he made four receptions for 82 yards, nearly half of which came when he used his 4.3 speed to rip off a 40-yard screen pass while lined up as a receiver.
Gibson said he would love to be used more as a pass-catcher, but that largely depends on how much of the playbook he can retain. And the only way to do that is to get as much practice as possible.
"First and foremost, he's a football player," Jordan said. "The more he does it, the more opportunities he has to do it, he'll get better at it."
As for McKissic, opportunity was not something he had to worry about last season. He was tied for second on the team with 110 targets, which dwarfed most other players -- Cam Sims had fourth-most targets with 48. His 589 receiving yards were second in the league behind only Alvin Kamara.
"He sees the whole picture," Jordan said. "His flexibility was very important and will be important again."
Jordan wants to see McKissic continue to master all the things that made him successful last season, and that includes getting as much production as possible out of his targets. McKissic was mostly used as a checkdown option for Washington's quarterbacks, but Jordan wants to see him use his athleticism to get more production out of screen passes and short-yardage routes.
"Instead of 10, let's turn those into 50- and 60-yard splash plays," Jordan said. "Challenge him in that area. And one thing that he can do is...run routes outside of the backfield, and you have to account for that."
McKissic has already shown that he is capable of putting up big numbers. He had three games of 60 or more yards, one of which was a 70-yard performance against the Pittsburgh Steelers in which he caught all 10 of his targets.
"It's just another way of getting the football to a talented guy like J.D.," Jordan said.
Turner has made it clear he wants the offense to be more explosive in its second iteration. It certainly has the pieces to do so, and for a unit that prizes versatility, Gibson and McKissic are two of its biggest examples of that. Another year in the scheme should help them use even more of their talents, and that can only mean good things for Washington.