Training camp is here, and we have you covered as the Washington Football Team progresses through its second season under head coach Ron Rivera. Stay up to date with "WFT Daily," which comes out every weekday evening.
Most people who ask about Antonio Gibson's development are primarily concerned with how he looks as an offensive weapon, but being a versatile chess piece includes more than just catching passes and running for touchdowns.
Pass blocking, while not as eye-catching as other responsibilities, is a big part of Gibson's expanded role in Year 2. Gibson knows how to block; understanding the fundamentals has never been an issue. But over the past month, his focus has been on understanding his signals and assignments on a given play.
"I'm coming along well. Last year I wasn't where I needed to be," Gibson said. "This year it's about having your eyes in the right spot."
It was clear last year that pass-blocking was Gibson's biggest area of improvement. By the time Washington had its Week 10 matchup with the Lions, Gibson ranked last in pass-blocking by Pro Football Focus. That was partly why Gibson wasn't used as much on third downs. To be fair, though Rivera did bring up last season how Gibson did show steady improvement.
"Some of the things you're starting to see is him getting a little better at understanding the protections," Rivera said, "which is very important getting him out there on the third-down units. That's one of the things we're hoping for: for him to continue to develop."
One way Gibson can help himself improve is by getting a better feel for where to look for a defender before a play begins. He knows that where a safety lines up before the ball is snapped gives hints on whether he's about to blitz. So, he's tried to pick up on those signals to tell him when to stay in the pocket or slip through the pass rush and be a dump off option for Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Gibson feels like he's gotten better as a blocker, and head coach Ron Rivera agrees. There are some times when he'll miss his man, but on other plays he can "stone a guy at the line." Now that he's shown the ability, Gibson needs to be more consistent, which is one of the main things Rivera wants to see out of the receiver-turned-running back.
"I think he's learning," Rivera said. "What you love to do is have a back that you can sit there and say, if we had to, we can play him in all three downs. That's a complete back, a guy that can go out there and do those things. You don't have to do different personnel groupings or bring in players to run specific plays."
As good as Gibson was last season, it's important to remember that he's still learning the position. Washington knows he can make plays with the ball in his hands, but that's only part of being a running back. It also involves doing his job when he isn't the focus of a play. If he can do that, it will go a long way towards turning him into the player Rivera knows he can be.
"He's still growing into the position," Rivera said. "Remember he's been a wide receiver most of his football career as a young man growing up and in college. Then now he's got the opportunity to play running back and he's just got to continue to grow into it."