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Training camp preview | Running back

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Commanders Alumni BBQ June 15, 2022

The opinions expressed in this article do not reflect those of the team.

The countdown to training camp has officially begun.

We are two days away from the Washington Commanders' first training camp under their new identity, giving the chance for dozens of players to make their case to be on the 53-man roster. And given Ron Rivera’s belief that the team is primed to take a step forward, there will be lofty expectations in the third year of his tenure.

Commanders.com will be breaking down each position and how they have changed in the past year. Here are the positions we have looked at so far:

We're finishing things up with the running backs, which might be one of the most solid positions on the Commanders' roster. J.D. McKissic was set to join the Buffalo Bills for about 48 hours but re-signed with Washington instead, keeping the core of its backfield intact. McKissic has been one of the the top of pass-catching running backs since 2020, so his reacquisition was a profound victory for the Commanders.

McKissic's running mate, Antonio Gibson, wrapped up a strong second season by rushing for 1,037 yards, making him the first Washington player since Adrian Peterson to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark in 2018. Gibson dropped a few pounds for training camp to utilize more of his quickness, and now that he'll be used more on outside runs, that should come in handy.

The reason for the change in Gibson's usage is because of Washington's third-round pick, Brian Robinson. The former Alabama running back was a bruiser in the SEC, getting more broken tackles than Derrick Henry in a single season. Robinson is a pure running back who knows how to get tougher yardage, so his presence should allow Gibson and McKissic to focus on their stronger traits.

Rounding out the position are Jaret Patterson, Jonathan Williams and Reggie Bonnafon. All three have in-game experience and could be serviceable backups if the need arises. Alex Armah, a fullback, is also group into the group and saw some action with Washington last season.

ROSTER SUBTRACTIONS

  • N/A

KEY ADDITIONS

  • Brian Robinson

Key storylines

-- Slim Gibby: Gibson has always been fast; his 4.3 speed was part of what enticed Washington to draft him in the first place. But despite having career highs in yardage last season, he felt a little slower than normal. That's why coming to OTAs a little lighter was such a priority for him.

"Just get some of that twitch back, that quickness and also prevent injuries in the long run," Gibson told Julie Donaldson in a 1-on-1 segment of "Command Center."

Now that Gibson is going to be running less between the tackles, it should give him more opportunities for big gains on the outside. Gibson has proven he can be deadly in space; his 73-yard catch-and-run on a screen pass against the Buffalo Bills was an example of that. And now that he's about 10 pounds lighter, it should be easier for him to blow past defenders on his way to the end zone.

-- A trifecta of unique roles: Rivera is excited about adding Robinson to the mix, and it's not just because the rookie is a talented player. It's also because of what his presence allows Washington to do with all three backs.

"Now you feel like you have a combination of running backs that on your first and second down are very physical at one point," Rivera said. "Then we turn around, you got a little bit of a slasher with Antonio's style. But Antonio's got some deceptive speed and quickness as well, so it's a good mix."

The roles are clearly laid out for Washington's backs. As Rivera said, Gibson is the slasher, while Robinson can bring physicality with his 228-pound frame. That leaves McKissic, who has made most of his plays as a pass-catcher. However, his skill set allows him to be more than a gadget piece and can implement parts of Gibson and Robinson's styles.

Assuming everyone stays healthy, it could make for a talented tandem.

The Washington Commanders busted out the new uniforms for Media Day earlier this month. Check out the top shots of the players wearing the new Burgundy & Gold. (Emilee Fails/Washington Commanders)

What to watch

-- Another big season for Gibson? Gibson has placed himself among Washington's best weapons over the past two seasons. He's scored at least 21 total touchdowns in that span, making him the first player since Alfred Morris to record at least 10 touchdowns in his first two seasons.

Gibson flirted with 1,000 yards as a rookie, but injuries eliminated that possibility. He saw a boost in carries the following season, and he rewarded that faith by becoming the second-leading rusher in the NFC.

Gibson likely won't get more carries in 2022, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing. It may give Gibson an opportunity to do more with less, and keeping him fresh could increase the likelihood of getting loose for bigger gains.

It's possible Gibson surpasses 1,000 yards again, but it will come down to whether he can get the most out of his rushing attempts. Based on how he's approached his role in the past, there should be much concern.

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