Antonio Gibson had a wall of blockers in front of him as he sped towards the end zone unhindered by defenders during the second day of the Washington Commanders' mandatory minicamp.
It was obvious that the defense wasn't expecting the dumpoff from Sam Howell during the 11-on-11 period of practice. The pass rush bit on the supposedly allowed pressure, allowing Gibson slip by them and gash the unit on a play that could have resulted in a touchdown had things been allowed to unfold.
Betting on Gibson to make plays in space tends to yield good results.
"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 is coming off a quieter season than what he was accustomed to in previous years, posting career lows in touches (195), rushing yards (546) and receiving yards (353). The Commanders still believe he is a key cog of their offense, though, and they plan on putting in situations that allow him to best utilize his skill set.
Gibson, a 2020 third-round pick from Memphis, has always had the potential to be more than what his position implies. Prior to joining the Commanders, much of his background came as a receiver, and in his final season with the Tigers, he put 735 yards with eight touchdowns while averaging 19.3 yards per catch.
It took time for Gibson to get truly comfortable as a full time running back, but there were moments during his rookie season, such as his 115 yards and three touchdowns against the Cowboys on Thanksgiving, that showed what he could be with time. The following season, Gibson was the first Washington player to rush for 1,000 yards since Adrian Peterson in 2018.
The Washington Commanders were back on the field on Thursday for the third day of mandatory minicamp. Check out the top photos from the afternoon. (Photos by Emilee Fails/Washington Commanders)
Gibson has learned to run between the tackles, but he's at his best when he attacks the perimeter with his 4.3 speed and quickness. Naturally, the Commanders want to find ways to get the most out of Gibson's talents. Fortunately, putting players in the best spot to succeed is one of Eric Bieniemy’s priorities.
"That's one of the things that he's looking for is guys that are gonna create those kinds of matchups and are gonna be matchup nightmares for the opponent," Rivera said of Bieniemy. "He [Gibson] is a guy that we mostly want to continue to work with and Eric wants to make sure this guy gets as many opportunities right now to show us what he's capable of, because I think that'll be a big part of the game planning."
Running backs, particularly those who can operate as pass-catchers, tend to do well in the offense that Bieniemy is bringing to Washington. Last year, veteran Jerrick McKinnon was fourth in targets (71) for the Chiefs and second on the team with nine receiving touchdowns. In 2021, Darrel Williams caught 47 of his 57 targets for 452 yards.
Gibson said that so far, Bieniemy has been "everything they said he would be," and it makes sense that he would be excited for his role in Washington's new-look offense.
"He has a lot up his sleeve," Gibson said of Bieniemy. "We are getting moved around a little bit different, but it's not just us. It's everybody, so I'm excited about that."
The Washington Commanders were back on the field on Wednesday for the second day of mandatory minicamp. Check out the top photos from the afternoon. (Photos by Emilee Fails and Kourtney Carroll/Washington Commanders)
There have been moments throughout Gibson's career where he has used his skill set as a receiver to create distance between himself and defenders, going back to his 82-yard performance against the Baltimore Ravens in 2020 and, more recently, his 72 receiving yards against the Jacksonville Jaguars last season. Perhaps the play Commanders fans remember the most was his 73-yard touchdown against Buffalo Bills, when he dusted nearly would-be tackler before diving into the end zone.
That play was similar to the one Gibson pulled off in practice earlier this month, and if the Commanders can get more of that out of him, it will create one more wrinkle for defenses to worry about.
"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."