NFL Redskins 

Cavanaugh has a strategy for Washington’s stable of backs

The Redskins are heading into training camp with a boatload of talent in their offensive backfield. From Mack Brown, the UDFA who shined in a late season game against the Chicago Bears, to Robert Kelley, the UDFA who took hold of the starting spot after his performance against the Cincinnati Bengals in the middle of 2016. Outside of the two undrafted free agents, the Redskins also drafted one of the better 3rd-down running backs in the league in Chris Thompson in 2013, and this year drafting one of the better backs in the draft in Samaje Perine in the 4th round.

The talent does not stop there, as they also had a back on injured reserve last season in Keith Marshall, although he didn’t shine in pre-season last year, he is known for his speed and has the potential to make the roster as the fourth back if he can contribute in multiple ways. This training camp is all about embracing competition so Jay Gruden, Matt Cavanaugh, and running backs coach Randy Jordan will have their hands full when evaluating the position.

What does a team do when they don’t have that big time feature back, how do they go about developing a pecking order in a committee approach to the position?

Cavanaugh expanded on how coaches should use them properly, and he has the right idea. “I don’t think there’s any issue having a lot of good backs and I feel like we’ve got a lot of good backs. Rob {Kelley] obviously has earned the starting job, and I think really it’s a game-to-game evaluation, an in-game evaluation of how well he’s doing and how winded he is – Does he need a blow? We just feel like we’ve got depth at that position now with a lot of similar-type players: stocky, quick-footed, strong, smart guys that can sub in for each other.”

Second-year pro Rob Kelley has definitely earned the starting role heading into this season, so it’s important for people to hold off on the idea of him being a complimentary back at best. Which includes myself, he’s showed how serious he’s taken to being a professional this off-season by answering his head coaches request to lose weight, in order to take on a bigger workload. If his work ethic is on display this early, with the performances he displayed last season, his ceiling is not yet defined.

Cavanaugh also mentions how it’s not just game-to-game evaluation, but in-game evaluation. That’s most important when trying to feel out a running back’s effectiveness. If,  Chris Thompson is performing up to par on a particular drive, there should be no need to take him out because he has the obvious hot hand. Obviously if there is a short down-and-distance, then maybe there is a decision to be made in terms of Kelley, or Perine. Otherwise, if a back isn’t winded and he’s contributing on that drive there should be no need to take him out. Keep him going.

“I wouldn’t put a pitch count on any of them, but obviously if a guy’s got a hot hand and he’s feeling good and he’s not gassed, we’ll keep him on the field. Ideally, maybe have some third-down reps too. Historically here, Chris [Thompson] has been our third-down back, but there’s no reason why can’t play him on first and second down. But just rotating the backs, keeping them fresh, we’ve got confidence in all of them.”

As mentioned before, a pitch count with a stable of good backs should not be limited. Early in the 2015 season, former Redskin Alfred Morris  saw a good amount of carries taken away from him and given to Matt Jones. Although he was ineffective for the most part of that season, and in Dallas the following season, the point is running backs need a flow and rhythm to impact a game. Taking away carries not only knocks them out of that, but also can affect their confidence as well. Cavanaugh acknowledges the confidence they have in their backs, specifically Chris Thompson who’s been a pleasant surprise as he developed over his Redskins tenure.
It’s important for this staff to utilize the talent they have and it seems he has the right strategy heading into this season which is a good thing. Gruden stated he wants to run more, now we wait and see if these comments will come to fruition.

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