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Antonio Gibson Pushing Himself To New Heights In Year 2

Antonio Gibson rushes the ball during the Washington Football Team's OTAs. (Emilee Fails/Washington Football Team)
Antonio Gibson rushes the ball during the Washington Football Team's OTAs. (Emilee Fails/Washington Football Team)

Antonio Gibson has never been short on confidence, but the answer he gave Senior Vice President of Media and Content Julie Donaldson on how opponents should defend him shows how far he has come in a year.

"I would just say, 'Get out of the way,'" Gibson said with a smile.

It did not matter what defenders tried to stop the former Memphis receiver during his rookie season. Their tactics started to become less and less effective as the year went on. What started as a learning experience turned into something of a breakout performance for Gibson as he rushed for 795 yards and led all of Washington's skill players with 11 touchdowns.

Now there is a mountain of expectations placed on Gibson's shoulders heading into his second season. Head coach Ron Rivera anticipates him to take another step forward in 2021, and that should not be a problem as long as his progress continues to skyrocket.

"Coming into the league, I had to learn the ins and outs," Gibson told Donaldson on learning the running back position. "I feel like I'm still at the verge of just breaking it, but I still got a lot to learn."

It's a different feeling for Gibson heading into his second season, largely because he gets to go through a more traditional offseason. As the COVID-19 pandemic forced the NFL to switch to a completely virtual program in 2020, Gibson had to focus on learning his new position through Zoom meetings. He had to wait until training camp at the end of July to get any real reps with his teammates.

Now the opportunities for Gibson to fine-tune his skillset have drastically increased through OTAs and mandatory minicamp. That, combined with what he did during the season -- 96.2% of his runs earned position yardage, according to Pro Football Focus, which was the highest rate during a regular season since 2012 -- makes him feel as if he "got his feet wet" at the position.

"I kind of know what to expect," Gibson told media members after Washington's June 2 practice. "This is something I didn't get to do last I'm enjoying this process as well as being able to recognize some of the things I wasn't accustomed to last year and get into the rhythm of things."

Gibson made it clear last year that he can be an effective running back. Aside from being a "scoring machine," as Rivera put it, he was also the sixth-most efficient running back with a minimum of 100 rushing attempts, according to Football Outsiders. His 11 rushing touchdowns were the most the franchise had seen from a rookie since Alfred Morris had 13 in 2012.

But that was only the first step in Gibson's development. Now Rivera wants to see more of the minute details from Gibson like understanding his aiming points as well as learning to make cuts and press running lanes.

"Those are all things he will learn with the more reps he gets," Rivera said, "and that's probably the biggest thing."

Knowing more of the basics of the position makes Gibson believe he can have an expanded role in his second season. He knows a lot of that will depend on his retention, but he is willing to do whatever the coaches ask of him, even be more involved in the passing game.

And he knows Rivera expects more progress from him this season. To him, that just shows how much the coaching staff believes in him.

"They were very patient with me last year, because they knew it was a learning process," Gibson said. "But this year, I expect nothing less from them to be on me about the little things. …I should be on my toes. I should know what to do."

As for what Gibson expects for himself this year, his main goal is just to improve his entire game. He wanted to break 1,000 rushing yards last season, but his toe injury cut him short of that. Now that he is back on the field with and getting his first full offseason under his belt, he does not intend to be denied again.

"This year, I'm priding myself on surpassing that," Gibson said. "I've got a couple of personal goals that I want to reach, too, that I didn't get to do last year, so that's definitely going to be up there."

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