Last year the Washington Redskins went into the 2015 season with running backs Alfred Morris, Chris Thompson and rookie Matt Jones. Added in was fullback and special teams ace Darrel Young and the offensive backfield should have been poised for a very successful campaign.
The team envisioned Morris and Jones becoming a one-two power punch with Thompson mainly being used as a third-down pass-catching back who had speed. Young’s primary role would have been to provide quality blocking and depth (if needed) due to injuries to any of the previously mentioned backs.
Early the 2015 season, the script played out to perfection. With newly named starting quarterback Kirk Cousins needing time to get comfortable under center and the Redskins facing two imposing front-seven units in the Miami Dolphins and St. Louis Rams in their first two contests, Washington’s ground game looked formidable.
Morris gashed the Dolphins for 121 yards on 25 carries in a Week 1 loss.
In a Week 2 win against the Rams, it was Jones who would come to the forefront, rushing for 123 yards on 19 carries. He also ran for two touchdowns. Combined, he and Morris logged 182 yard on 37 carries, proving that the run game could be a weapon for the Burgundy and Gold.
In a Week 3 Monday night loss to the New York Giants, it was Thompson who showed his value in the role that Head Coach Jay Gruden had envisioned for him. Thompson led the team that night in receptions with eight and registered a touchdown.
The following week in a win against the Philadelphia Eagles, Thompson again showed that he added important value to the offense when he rushed for 53 yards on six carries. Of those yards, 42 came on a third-and-long play during which he showed his impressive speed straight up the middle of the field.
The scenario that was playing out showed promise for Washington’s run game. Unfortunately, injuries to the offensive front along with injuries in their own group (and inconsistent production) would derail any promise in the run game… at least in 2015.
Does the team have the one back that can be featured and/or do they even have the core group in place that can take the Burgundy and Gold to new levels on the ground?
Morris looks to be the odd-man-out and searching for a new home. The former Pro Bowl player had his streak of three consecutive thousand-yard seasons snapped this past season. He appeared to lose a step and some of the burst that made him a fan-favorite and featured back for Washington in years past.
With Morris likely gone this offseason, could Jones be in line to be the next great back in Washington?
The former Florida Gator has the look of a top-flight running back with size, power and speed to match. His main problem was his propensity to put the ball on the ground, fumbling five times during his inaugural campaign. If he can hold on to the ball however, there is no debating the talent that was on display several times in key moments.
Could Thompson, who as of right now is an exclusive rights free agent, be the change-of-pace back that normally comes alongside a big bruising back like Jones?
Thompson was nagged by a few injuries as the season progressed and that has been the storyline on him for his three years in the league. Can he remain healthy for a full 16-game tilt?
Young, who played primarily at fullback and on special teams, is an effective pass-catcher and has shown over his career that he can be an effective short-yardage/goal-line back. He is now an unrestricted free agent so his return is in question as well. He has stated his desire to remain a Redskin.
There are several backs out there that have had very productive careers that are available (or will become so)… the team my look to sign several of those. Or, they could add just one more back like they did midway through the season when an injury forced them to sign former New Orleans Saint Pierre Thomas. He played well and provided a veteran leader with playoff experience on the roster.
Whether it is via the draft or free agency, look for the team to at least add one more back to more than likely replace Morris.
Jones and Thompson look to play a big role under Gruden — who speaks glowingly of both of the young backs. Any comparison of these two however to running backs Jeremy Hill and Giovanni Bernard (who played for Gruden when he was offensive coordinator in Cincinnati) is a bit premature. But the Redskins tandem does possess a size and style similar to the Bengals’ pair. If the Redskins could get the type of production week-in and week-out that The Queen City duo provided, they would have a different type of running game going forward.
The questions come down to this: will the Redskins use either Jones or Thompson as their primary back, will they employ more of a run-game-by-committee scenario or will they add a premier back via the draft or free agency?