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Jay Gruden loves Rob Kelley, but would also love drafting a 'special' RB

Jay Gruden loves Rob Kelley, but would also love drafting a 'special' RB

Redskins coach Jay Gruden has a very high opinion of running back Rob Kelley. He surprised many by making the 53-man roster as an undrafted rookie last year and when starter Matt Jones faltered, Kelley took over as the starter for the last nine games.

“Oh, man, I love Rob Kelley,” Gruden told reporters earlier this week at the NFL meetings in Phoenix.

“I thought he played great. You throw a rookie free agent into the fire like that and see him play and compete. Not one time did I feel like it was too big for him. Not once. That’s a hell of a thing to say for a kid out of Tulane who only had a couple of carries his senior year. He came right in, he competes on every play.”

Actually, Kelley had 65 carries as a senior at Tulane, for 232 yards and one touchdown.

But Gruden’s overall point about Kelley being a little-used back in college. In four years with the Green Wave he never had as many as 100 carries in a single season.

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Kelley got 168 carries in the NFL last year, gaining 704 yards. He scored six touchdowns, the same number that he scored in 49 games at Tulane.

Gruden was not done singing Kelley’s praises.

“He had some of the greatest two-yard runs I’ve seen,” the coach continued.

“He gets back to the line of scrimmage, he keeps his feet moving, he protects the ball. He’s going to get better in pass protection. Catching the ball, he did a nice job. He dropped a couple here and there but for the most part he catches the ball. I really think the vision he has he’ll be more patient as a runner this year. I think he’s going to be a good back, I really do.

“A lot of people think we need a great running back. I think Rob is a great running back, I really do.”

While that certainly is a ringing endorsement, Gruden wouldn’t shy away upgrading the position in the draft.

“There are some special players in this draft, if they’re available they’d be hard to pass up, quite frankly,” Gruden said moments after lauding Kelley.

MORE REDSKINS: JAY GRUDEN BULLISH ON 2017 REDSKINS

Two of the running back considered “special” who may be available when the Redskins make their pick in the first round are Dalvin Cook of Florida State and Christian McCaffrey of Stanford. In a separate interview with JP Finlay of CSN, Gruden talked about those two backs.

 “That’s the thing about those two guys, they can move around,” said Gruden. “They’re not just lining up in the I formation running the power play. They can line up outside at different spots, play receiver, catch the ball out of the backfield and they can also run it between the tackles. They’re not just one dimensional players, they’re very exciting.”

So to sum up the coach’s thought process here, Gruden thinks that Kelley is a “great” running back but the team would find it tough to pass on “special” and “exciting” alternatives. It doesn’t sound to me like Kelley should get too comfortable with the idea of being the lead dog at running back. And those Redskins fans who have earmarked that first-round draft pick for defense may end up being very disappointed.   

Stay up to date on the Redskins! Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page Facebook.com/TandlerCSN and follow him on Twitter @Rich_TandlerCSN.

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Poll: Three weeks out; does a Cousins deal get done?

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Poll: Three weeks out; does a Cousins deal get done?

Three weeks from right now, Kirk Cousins will either have a new long-term deal or he will be playing on the tag. Which will it be?

Thanks for participating. Feel free to leave your comments here on the site or just respond to the tweet. Thanks. 

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Pressure Points: New position should lead to more playmaking from Su'a Cravens

Pressure Points: New position should lead to more playmaking from Su'a Cravens

In the weeks leading up to training camp, Redskins Insider JP Finlay will look at specific people facing increased pressure for the 2017 season. 

Pressure Point: Strong safety Su'a Cravens

Cravens flashed his playmaking ability in spots during 2016, but finding the right position and injuries stunted his impact as a rookie. He lost time early in the year to a concussion against the Browns and then saw his season cut short after an arm injury in December in Philadelphia. 

Injuries can't be planned on, but in 2017, the position issue should be solved.

Cravens looks poised to open the season starting alongside D.J. Swearinger in the Redskins secondary. The rebuilt safety duo could go a long way towards an improved Redskins defense.

Swearinger established himself as a quality starter last year playing with the Cardinals. Pro Football Focus rated him the No. 8 safety in the NFL. For Cravens, however, this is the year to establish himself.

ROSTER BATTLES: Left guard | Tight end Nickel cornerback  | Inside linebacker | Running back

So far, Redskins coach Jay Gruden likes Cravens' development.

"He’s doing a great job. We’re happy with his progress," Gruden said in June. "I think just the more he plays, the better he’s going to get. The more he can just go practice and watch himself on tape and watch his eye progression and his angles, that’s just going to be huge for him because he continues to develop."

One of the reasons he slipped out of the first round in the 2016 Draft was because of speed. At his USC Pro Day, he ran a 4.69. Is Cravens fast enough to play safety in the NFL? 

His 40 time might not suggest it, but the Washington secondary is not full of burners anyway. In fact, linebacker Zach Brown's 4.50 40 time at the NFL Combine was faster than any of the Redskins projected secondary (Cravens, Swearinger, Josh Norman or Bashaud Breeland). The Redskins coaches think proper positioning and communication will account for any lack of speed in their defensive backfield. 

In college at USC, Cravens played mostly safety but showed he could line up all over the field. In Washington last season, he played almost exclusively interior linebacker, mostly in dime and nickel situations.

He produced, 23 tackles and an interception in 11 games, but it seemed clear to all parties he was better suited for the secondary. Asked about Cravens late last season, one Redskins player said simply, "Su'a is a safety."

This year, Su'a is a safety.

Week 3 as a rookie, Cravens made arguably the most important play of the Redskins season, intercepting Eli Manning to secure the team's first win of the year. That pick showed exactly why the Redskins drafted Cravens. He was tight in coverage and made a leaping, athletic play on the ball to force the turnover.

As a strong safety, Cravens will inch up towards the box on plenty of snaps and will rarely, if ever, be wholly responsible for deep middle coverage. That should mean plenty more opportunities to make plays like he did in Giants Stadium. The pressure is on.

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