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Now In Starting Role, Robert Kelley Ready For Competition


Robert Kelley will continue to grow entering his second season with the Redskins, and he's not concerned with others potentially eating into his playing time.

Robert Kelley isn't afraid of a challenge on the football field. That was certainly true last season when he worked his way from the bottom of the team's depth chart at running back to eventually assume the starting role for the final nine games of the season.

Kelley's competitive spirit allowed the undrafted rookie out of Tulane to work his way up the ladder, past fellow first-year players and veteran Matt Jones.

"Everywhere I went they had a good running back there," Kelley said this week on "Redskins Nation." "I never wondered why anything hadn't been given to me. Even when I came here it was never given to me, I had to work for it. It's a job. You have to work for it."

Kelley's season numbers in 2016 were rather remarkable considering where he began and what he dealt with down the stretch. He was active for the first two games of the season, but didn't get any action on offense until a Week 3 victory over the New York Giants.

He remained in the third running back role over the course of the first half of the season, but with Jones sidelined by a knee injury for the Redskins' game against the Cincinnati Bengals in London in Week 8, Kelley received his first career start.

That was followed by eight consecutive starts following the Bye Week, as Kelley finished the season with 168 carries for 704 yards and six touchdowns despite dealing with a knee injury he had surgery on in January.

Kelley is one of four players in franchise history to record at least 150 carries in a season without fumbling, joining Pro Football Hall of Famer Cliff Battles, Jim Musick and Alfred Morris.

Kelley says a lot of the credit from his season-long performance should be given to running backs coach Randy Jordan.

Take a look back at the top images of the Washington Redskins' running backs from the 2016 season.

"I think he got me to look at the game a whole different way," Kelley said. "In college, I was just getting the ball and running to find the hole or whatever but he got me to making certain types of reads. Reading the defensive end and reading the defensive tackle. When these guys step into the hole you do this and stuff like that."

Kelley also benefitted from playing behind one of the best offensive lines in the NFL, led by Pro Bowlers Trent Williams and Brandon Scherff.

"I think it helped my performance in a major way," Kelley said. "In college I didn't have anyone around like that. I was working for everything. I think it was pretty easy this year running behind those guys."

While some mock drafts currently have Washington selecting Florida State running back Dalvin Cook with the No. 17-overall pick in this year's NFL Draft, Kelley remains penciled in as the team's starting running back for the 2017 season.

Jones will compete to earn back playing time and Mack Brown hopes to turn in similar performances like his one from Chicago in 2016, but Kelley will carry the brunt of the load at the running back position for the Redskins.

"I feel good about him," said Redskins head coach Jay Gruden at the NFL Combine earlier this month. "He's a big, strong, physical kid. He's going to get stronger. To throw him into situations we threw him into where he didn't blink and had no nerves whatsoever, he's going to get better and better. Runs hard, great vision, I like him a lot."

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