Head coach Jay Gruden preferred more clarity regarding which running backs the Redskins should keep heading into the regular season, but Thursday night against the Ravens he only got more confusion.
That's because all four backs active during the team's 30-20 loss in Baltimore – Rob Kelley, Samaje Perine, Kapri Bibbs and De'Veon Smith – contributed in substantial measure, combining for 131 rushing yards, 83 receiving yards and a touchdown to close out the preseason and begin the waiting process.
Like all NFL teams, the Redskins must shave the roster down to 53 spots by Saturday afternoon, saving an additional 10 vacancies for the practice squad. As coaches review the tape from Thursday's game, they'll have to determine the value and merits displayed during the last several weeks and complete a jigsaw puzzle they believe best gives them a chance to win next week.
"I know these coaches are going to have a hard time," Bibbs said. "We have some amazing players on this team."
After quick three-and-out on their first offensive drive, the Redskins got moving thanks to Kelley, who responded to his first run – a three-yard loss – with a 12-yard burst up the right side followed by an eight-yard catch for a first down. He continued to get fed, running for nine yards to the right, picking up a first down on a punch up the middle and then showing off his hands with a 10-yard pass play.
Running back Samaje Perine got back into the mix later on the drive, running 12 yards that earned 10 additional penalty yards after a horse-collar tackle. Kelley, who finished with 11 carries for 49 yards, later set the Redskins up in prime position near the goal line after absorbing a helmet to helmet hit by the end zone that earned flags.
"I think I did well with the opportunities I was given," Kelley said. "Also, I mean I feel like I could have done more each time. Like tonight, I could have done more. I think tonight was different because the carries [were] there. We had two running backs who didn't play, it was just me, Samaje [Perine], Smitty [De'Veon Smith], got a lot of carries. But it was just three of us, but the carries were there for me to get going and stuff like that. So obviously it's going to be a better game with a little more runs to go, you know what I mean?"
After a couple of solid runs from Perine in the second quarter, he made his lone mistake fumbling in Redskins territory after the ball was punched out from under his arms, leading to a Ravens field goal. Perine finished the game with seven carries for 30 yards, and said he responded well after missing the last game with the ankle injury he sustained against the Jets in the second preseason game.
While Bibbs didn't have many opportunities to run – he carried the ball twice for 11 yards – he showed his value as a pass protector and catcher. Several times he took on blitzing defenders and kept the pocket clean for quarterback Kevin Hogan, while also providing him an outlet to pass, racking up three catches for 41 yards.
"Obviously, you know, you always want to keep doing more and more and more, you know, for a team and continue to show your capability," Bibbs said. "But I think what I put out there on film, I'm proud of it. I'm proud of my training camp, I'm proud of my OTA's, I'm proud of my preseason. I'm proud of the whole resume I put together to make this team."
Finshing strong was certainly the mindset for De'Veon Smith, who played just one special teams snap last week against the Broncos after being signed alongside Adrian Peterson the Monday before. The Redskins gave him most of the second half to get some snaps on film and provide other teams a sampling of his skillset should he fall to waivers.
He took advantage, rushing seven times for 42 yards, including a long of 20 that set the Redskins up for a touchdown in the third quarter. He then punctuated his efforts with a touchdown of his own late in the fourth quarter, taking a screen pass from Hogan for 28 yards and diving into the end zone after breaking numerous tackles. It caught Perine's attention, too.
"That screen, did ya'll see that screen? The catch was good but what he did after the catch, that was fantastic," Perine said.
With Adrian Peterson and Chris Thompson ready for Week 1, it would appear Washington has three more running back spots left open. Each running back knows their fate is not up to them, and these next two days will be a test of confidence and belief in their abilities.
"It's been very interesting to say the least," Perine said of a preseason that's included losing Derrius Guice for the year and adding Peterson weeks later. "But, at this point we just take it all in stride. We do what we can, we do what we can control and then whatever happens after that happens."