The Redskins first preseason game against the Atlanta Falcons will give a talented and competitive running back group their first look at live tackling this season.
Before the Redskins head to Richmond for training camp, check out who all is on the roster position-by-position. Today it is the running backs and fullbacks
Coaches will be taking a close look at the running back position when the Redskins prepare to take on the Atlanta Falcons in the team's first preseason game of the season on Thursday night.
The Redskins have six running backs on the roster. Matt Jones and Chris Thompson are atop the depth chart, with Keith Marshall, Mack Brown, Robert Kelley and Kelsey Young all competing for roster spots.
"We have position battles, running back is no different," head coach Jay Gruden said. "Matt Jones is doing an excellent job, Keith Marshall, he shows up every day and has a burst of speed you just don't see every day. Chris Thompson has been doing a good job. Robert Kelley, not many people knew who he was, but people know who he is around here, he's doing a great job. So it's interesting to watch these guys play."
Running back is perhaps the hardest position to evaluate in training camp due to the lack of live tackling.
Coaches will be looking to identify which of the young running backs on the roster has the crucial ball carrier traits that will separate them from the rest of the group.
"It's hard to evaluate running backs," Gruden said. "How do they handle getting hit? How durable are they? Do they break tackles, fall forward for yards after contact? ... when it comes to real football it's hard to gauge out here on a practice field. We can see skill set, speed, height, weight, all that stuff, smarts, but when it comes right down to it, real football, you can't evaluate until you tackle."
While the coaching staff wants to see how the backs respond to live tackling, the running backs feel training camp has prepared them for the physicality of a new opponent.
"I'll tell you one thing, you go with the (second- and third-team), that's full contact," running back Mack Brown said. "So we've been playing games all the last two weeks, so ain't going to be nothing different."
Brown, who is from the Atlanta area, was waived by the Redskins last season after struggling to learn the playbook on the fly during training camp. Now with an offseason of preparation under his belt, Brown feels he is hitting his groove when it matters most.
"Main thing is just have a job when camp is over, because getting released last year, that was a hard feeling, so I'm not going home this year," Brown said.
Chris Thompson is the wise sage of the group at just 25 years old. With Brown hailing from the Atlanta area and Marshall having played at Georgia, Thompson understands the external and internal pressures to succeed and is reminding the backs to have fun.
"I think they're going to be a little nervous but also excited and I'm just going to talk to them about not getting overly excited about it," Thompson said. "They're 22-23 years old so they've been doing it since they were maybe 10-11 years old and nothing's changed about the game. We just got bigger, everybody got faster so it's still the kids game. You just go out and have fun. I'm going to just tell them control what you can control. At the end of the day, after the third and fourth game, the coaches are going to make whatever decision they think is right. You can have six touchdowns and if they feel they want to go in different directions that's what they're going to do."
It seems the rookies have already taken that advice to heart. Running backs and roommates Keith Marshall and Robert Kelley are relaxed ahead of Thursday's game and are both excited to be playing against a different opponent.
"I don't think we think about it that much, we just go out there and play," Kelley said. "We don't focus like, 'You've got this and I got that,' we just relax man. Whatever's gonna happen is gonna happen."
The two have not prepared any differently for Thursday than they would for a regular practice.
"We've been practicing for a couple weeks now so to get to go out there and do it versus someone else should be fun," Marshall said. The Georgia product has turned heads at camp as the rookie best known for his
speed has shown some power in recent days.
The backs are going to try to make an impact on offense, but for the rookies on the back end of the depth chart special teams is often the pivotal deciding factor in a roster spot. "I was a tryout guy, so the way I'm going to make the team is definitely through special teams," Young said. "I've been working my butt off on kickoff, kickoff return, punt, punt return all that stuff. I'm even trying to get on field goal block and come off the edge. I'm just trying to use the best of my opportunity and we've got four games to really put that on the table and I'm excited for it to start on Thursday."