*Rookie Robert Kelley led all running backs in rushing yards and scored the Redskins' first preseason touchdown in the third quarter during the team's preseason opener in Atlanta. *
It took a few plays during the Redskins' 23-17 preseason opener loss to the Falcons for rookie running back Robert Kelley to get going, but eventually the Tulane product found some holes to accelerate through and some defenders downfield to bruise. He also found the end zone.
The Redskins' first touchdown of the preseason came during a 7-play, 78-yard drive early in the third quarter with quarterback Nate Sudfeld under center, looking poised as he took command of the third-string offense.
Kelley couldn't many open lanes during his first couple of runs, getting stopped for short gains with a fluctuating offensive line, but the early adversity didn't discourage him.
"I mean, after playing football for a long time you know you aren't going to just go out there and run over people," Kelley said by his locker. "It's going to take time, you got to warm up. Obviously it's the first game so the offensive line has to get into their groove, you have to get into your groove, things like that take time. As the season goes [it] will get better, so you can't get frustrated when stuff doesn't go your way."
The scoring drive began promising. Starting on Washington's own 22-yard line, Sudfeld, operating with center Austin Reiter, dropped back and found tight end Logan Paulsen wide open for an easy connection towards the sideline at midfield.
An incompletion to Paulsen followed before the Redskins caught a break with a 15-yard facemask, pushing them into Falcons territory. That's when Kelley took over.
Thanks to a nice block up the middle from Reiter, Kelley took the next handoff from Sudfeld and busted up the middle and cut to his right for 18 yards. Sudfeld continued to feed him for five yards to the left and then 11 yards to the right, fighting his way to the Falcons' 1-yard line.
Offsetting penalties nixed a stalled rush attempt, giving Kelley a second chance to take advantage, plowing through the middle of the line for a 1-yard score to cut the Falcons' lead to 13.
"Yeah I really thought the O-line did a great job opening up some holes and the running backs were running hard which made it easier for me because guys were open," Sudfeld said.
The next offensive series allowed Kelley a 9-yard reception out of the backfield, his second catch of the night. In total he finished with 13 receiving yards and 40 rushing yards, leading the team, on seven carries.
"I think I did pretty well, for the reps I was in, I think I got my assignment down," Kelley said. "I really didn't make any big plays, but as far as my assignment, that's really what I wanted to focus on, just making sure I did everything right and I think I did that well."
Mistakes made – both in the backfield and on special teams – stayed with Kelley, but that's what a preseason game is about. Thursday night, for Kelley, was didactic and also a blueprint for how he wants to approach the end of training camp and the next week of practices.
"It felt good," Kelley said of facing an NFL opponent for the first time. "After this game, I felt more confident, like knowing I can play with those guys out there and the [next] level, moving up from college to the NFL and the hitting isn't harder, but there are better players. I feel more confident, just being able to make plays with NFL guys, so I feel better about myself."