The Washington Commanders have placed an emphasis on making sure their offensive playmakers are put in the best position to succeed, and there are few on the roster who offer as many options as Antonio Gibson.
Gibson, a third-round pick from 2020, has experience playing at receiver and running back in college and with the Commanders. Washington has used him in both roles in his career, and with Eric Bieniemy taking over the offense, the team wants to create mismatches that allow him to flaunt his athleticism.
As useful as that versatility is, there are some who have had difficulty trying to define Gibson's specific offensive role. After the conclusion of the Commanders' first training camp practice, Gibson provided an answer to that question, saying he sees himself as a "third-down back."
"Almost like that [Free Agent RB J.D. McKissic] role, third down back end of the game situation, end of the half situation and things like that," Gibson said. "And then whatever those guys got playing outside of that, I could take that on, too."
As Gibson alluded, being the Commanders' third-down back was a role that McKissic held during his three years with the franchise. McKissic had his most productive seasons with Washington, amassing 1,831 total yards and seven touchdowns, including a 954-yard campaign in 2020.
Gibson certainly has the tools to thrive in the role. Along with his 4.3 speed, he excels at escaping defenders near the perimeter with his quickness. His experience as a receiver has taught him how to work in space, and he's shown that at various points in his career. He's had at least 1,000 total yards in two of his three NFL seasons, including a 1,000-yard rushing performance in 2021.
Most recently, he broke loose on a screen play during OTAs that likely would have resulted in a touchdown.
"You see his athleticism because again, that's what he came in as a receiver out of Memphis," said head coach Ron Rivera. "And he's really shown that his pass catching ability is there. And then once he's got the ball in his hands, especially in space, he's a load."
Gibson's role could lead to more opportunities as a pass-catcher, which would suit him just fine. Actually, he's hoping that it comes to fruition this season.
"Hopefully this year it comes around to where I can showcase on multiple occasions what I do out there," Gibson said on July 14. "I love being out there. I have fun out there, and once I get the ball in open space, I'm really that guy."
The Washington Commanders were back on the field for the first day of 2023 training camp. Here are the best photos from the practice. (Photos by Emilee Fails and Kourtney Carroll/Washington Commanders)
While his role might be different in Bieniemy's system, Gibson has embraced the situation and what the offensive coordinator has been trying to teach. If it leads to him being a more dynamic weapon, then it should benefit everyone on the Commanders' offense.
"He really has come out and has really taken to what Coach Bieniemy is trying to get across to these guys on how to practice, how to prepare yourself, and what's expected," Rivera said of Gibson. "That's the other thing that's been really good and just watching him has been a treat this year because you see that growth and again, to me it's all trending in the right direction."
And if Bieniemy wants more from him, Gibson is going to make sure he's ready for that chance.
"We're going to do what coach needs and if they ask for more, we're going to do more," Gibson said. "So, everybody's going to play their role, but we're going to practice like we all starters."