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Bieniemy: Chris Rodriguez is 'in a good place' with his development

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Chris Rodriguez readied himself in a two-point stance next to Randy Jordan as he prepared to go through one of the running back coach's unique individual drills.

The drill itself was straightforward enough; it required the back to run to his left, plant his foot before turning up field and sprinting through a cascading set of bags (while taking a jab or two from another coach trying to pop the ball loose) before trying to avoid assistant running backs coach Jennifer King.

Rodriguez did exactly that, using textbook footwork to navigate through the gauntlet of obstacles while earning some praise from Jordan along the way.

"That's it," Jordan said. "Beautiful. Nice job."

Little things like that are what Rodriguez must do to stand out as a sixth-round draft pick in a crowded running back room. Eric Bieniemy’s faith in the skill set he showed at Kentucky, which helped him become one of the best ball carriers in program history, was enough to get him on the roster, but if he wants to stay there, he'll need to do whatever he can to get his coaches' attention.

Through six OTA practices, Rodriguez has risen to that challenge.

"Chris is a hardworking kid," Bieniemy said. "He takes a tremendous amount of pride in everything that he does, and I think right now he's in a good place."

Head coach Ron Rivera said Bieniemy was "very high" on Rodriguez during the draft process because of what he showed as Kentucky's primary running back. He had 20 100-yard games in his career -- a school record -- while averaging 6.2 yards per carry. After eclipsing the 1,000-yard mark in 2021 and nearly doing so again in 2022, Pro Football Focus graded him as the best running back in the SEC.

With the Commanders, Rodriguez is starting in the same spot as every other rookie on the roster: at the bottom. Brian Robinson and Antonio Gibson are at the top of the position with Jonathan Williams operating as the No. 3 option, so Rodriguez's job is to make the most of his limited reps.

One of Rogriguez's first lessons was to treat every play as a valuable commodity. He fumbled the ball during a drill in rookie minicamp, which earned some yelling from Bieniemy for him to finish the drill.

Rodriguez took the reprimand in stride.

"Today wasn't difficult, but it's just the little details that we gotta pay attention to and come back and fix tomorrow," he said.

Check out the best photos of the Washington Commanders as they went through their OTA practice earlier today. (Photos by Emilee Fails/Washington Commanders)

Rodriguez has steadily improved since his first practice in May, and the talent he showed at Kentucky has flashed more frequently each day. He has impressed his coaches with his skills as a pass-catcher -- an aspect of his game they did not expect -- and he's willing to fill any role he's been given in practice, whether it's in the backfield or running a route.

It helps that Rodriguez has been a quick study and is able to digest the information that's given to him.

"He's a smart football player on the field," Jordan said. "I see a guy that's willing to work, willing to grind, willing to chop wood to be a better player each and every day."

Bieniemy said that Rodriguez has a firm grasp of his strengths and weaknesses, which is not rare but "always good to see."

"He's a very sharp kid. He doesn't take anything for granted and that's what you love about him, and that's why he's here. We felt that way about him when he was at Kentucky."

Rodriguez's coaches want him to get on the field in any way he can, even if that means being on special teams.

"Just because you play that position [running back] doesn't mean that you can't play other positions," Bieniemy said. "The quickest way to making this team is making sure that you become best friends with that special teams coach. And if you're becoming best friends with that special teams coach, that means that you're finding a way to become a four phase special teams player."

Regardless of how the opportunity comes his way, Rodriguez isn't taking it for granted.

"He's doing a hell of a job of just working and doing whatever he can to show up on tape for all the right reasons," Bieniemy said.

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