One of the early messages coming out of the Washington Redskins' 2018 OTAs is the fact that running back Rob Kelley shouldn't be forgotten after a season in which he struggled to overcome injuries before Washington used an early pick on a player at his position.
While Washington was able to get a steal in the second round of the 2018 NFL Draft in Derrius Guice, Kelley is still expected to be an important part of the offense now that he's fully healthy again.
Through the first two weeks of OTAs, Kelley has been the first running back to go through individual drills with running backs coach Randy Jordan. He's also taken a majority of the reps at running back with the first-team offense.
"It's been a positive impression for sure," said Redskins head coach Jay Gruden of Kelley's performance so far in OTAs. "You know, Rob's never been an issue as far as work ethic is concerned. He's always gone out and done his job and been very engaging in the meetings, comes out here and takes what he learned in the meeting room and accepts the challenge and plays well. So Rob's doing a good job."
Even though there's team-wide confidence that Guice will be an impact player as a rookie, Kelley doesn't see his addition to the roster as a hindrance to his path to claiming a spot on the 53-man roster.
"I didn't take in any type of way," Kelley said. "At the end of the day, this is a business and an organization. I hate to say it, but if I'm playing Madden and my running back gets hurt then I'm going to get another running back. You've got to keep the training going. You can't let one man stop the show. It's our job to create our own value on this team, so that's what I'm doing."
The 25-year-old added that it's "always motivating" when more competition is brought in, as Guice joins the likes of 2017 fourth-round pick Samaje Perine and Chris Thompson on the roster among other running backs.
"When a new guy comes in and you see him do things a little better so there's always motivation," Kelley said. "I think Guice is a great talent. I feel like the other first round guys are great, but where they got him that tells me the organization did a great job."
Here's photos from the Washington Redskins OTAs practice that took place Wednesday, May 30, 2018, at the Inova Sports Performance Center at Redskins Park, presented by Loudoun Economic Development.
Kelley, of course, burst onto the scene as an undrafted rookie in 2016. Signed by the Redskins following a four-year career at Tulane in which his carries were at times sporadic, Kelley recorded 704 rushing yards and six touchdowns in 168 carries during his debut campaign.
With a strong second half to that season, Kelley entered 2017 as the team's solidified go-to running back. But Kelley struggled with ankle and knee injuries throughout the year, managing less than 200 rushing yards in seven appearances before being placed on Injured Reserve.
While it was a difficult experience to battle through a litany of injuries, Kelley isn't using being hurt as any sort of excuse.
"Nobody wants to deal with injuries especially when you put the work in during the offseason," Kelley said. "Then you don't get a chance to display the work you put in, so I did get frustrated. But, you realize that in the NFL things happen and you've got to be able to move on and forward from it. Don't sit back and whine about it all day."
Kelley has also had conversations with Thompson, who also ended last season on Injured Reserve, about recovering from injuries. Kelley said those conversations, which sometimes last 15 to 20 minutes, reminds him about a team-first mindset.
"He constantly bounces back, so for me to sit there and whine about it, it would be a slap in the face for him," Kelley said. "He constantly keeps coming after it each and every day so he's the motivation for me."
As Kelley looks to have a bounce back performance this year, Gruden said it will be important for him to be more consistent in all phases of his game.
"I think he's getting better in the passing game, without a doubt," Gruden said. "The vision points in pass protection, his routes are more crisp, without a doubt, and obviously we just keep tracking these runs and being decisive with his cuts, that's all we do right now. Obviously ball security, he's doing fine with that, so I think just mastering all phases of the game is what he's got to continue to do and he'll have to continue to do throughout his whole career, not just this year."