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Redskins 2017 roster battles: How will Kelley and Perine share the carries?

Redskins 2017 roster battles: How will Kelley and Perine share the carries?

The Redskins go into OTAs with competition for jobs and depth chart position at several spots on the field. Over the next week, Redskins insiders Rich Tandler and J.P. Finlay look at how these competitions stand right now and they each make the case for a potential winner.

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

Running back

The contenders:

Last year, undrafted rookie Rob Kelley was the hunter. He bided his time on the bench, watching Matt Jones as the starter for the first seven games of the season. When Jones faltered, Kelley was ready to step in. He rushed for 87, 97, and 137 yards in his first three games as the starter but he didn’t top 76 yards after that. Still, Jay Gruden has heaped praise on Kelley all offseason and said that he will line up with the first team when OTAs get underway later this month.

But Gruden didn’t love Kelley enough to bypass his potential replacement in the draft. After buzz that they might go after a running back in the first round, the Redskins took Samaje Perine out of Oklahoma in the fourth round. Kelley is now the hunted. Perine is a powerful runner who should immediately get snaps on short yardage and near the goal line. But he could end up being more than a fantasy touchdown vulture for Kelley.

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And the winner is . . .

Tandler: I don’t see any way that Kelley is not the running back on the field for the first offensive play of the year against the Eagles, making him the “starter.” After that, all bets are off. How it unfolds as the season wears on will be interesting to watch. Kelley was a great story last year but he was just an OK performer. His average of 4.2 yards per carry was 19th among qualifying backs in the NFL. In his nine games as a starter he averaged 3.98 per carry, which would have ranked 26th. A middle of the pack performance should not land Kelley on the bench but it should have Gruden and company looking for more.

The improvement could come from Kelley stepping up in his second season. Or it could come from Perine, who averaged 6.0 yards per carry in his four seasons at Oklahoma. Perine needs to translate that to the pros, of course, and that’s not a given. But he should get a shot and be a part of a three-man running back committee (with Chris Thompson getting some chances as the third-down back). We will see how it shakes out over the course training camp, the preseason, and when the games start to count.

Finlay: The rush to annoint Perine needs to slow down a bit. As Tandler said, the former Sooner will help immediately in short yardage and particularly at the goal line, but this will remain Kelley's job. Folks around Redskins Park have been impressed with Kelley's offseason work, first rehabbing from surgery to clean up his knee, and over the last few weeks, his time in the weight room. The word is "Fat Rob" will no longer be deserving of the nickname, as he has gotten stronger in advance of the 2017 season.

A humble, undrafted rookie last season, Kelley should be able to maintain his quick feet to the hole, and ability to avoid defenders, that Gruden liked so much in 2016. Thompson will continue to be a key part of the Redskins offense as well. Pencil him in for five to eight touches per game, and occasionally more based on matchups. 

Perine will help the 'Skins in the red zone, and the team needs it. He scored 49 touchdowns in three seasons at Oklahoma, and Washington can use that type of productivity near the goal posts. Remember, however, that Perine is leaving the wide open Big 12, and Oklahoma's spread offense, for an NFL with much, much tougher defenses. Often the hardest part for rookie running backs in the NFL is to adjust to the speed of pass rushers, and understand where to be in pass protection. Perine is strong - the strongest RB in the 2017 Draft - but the knowledge of blitz pickup will have to come quick if he's going to truly push Kelley for carries. 

It's also a bit wild to think of 2015 third-round pick Matt Jones as an afterthought, but he is. Jay Gruden had to be reminded of Jones' presence on the roster during a media session in Arizona, and reports showed the Redskins tried to trade their former RB1 around the draft. With Kelley, Thompson, Perine and Mack Brown, there is a real question if Jones makes the roster. A big body with good speed, Jones has a lot of potential in the NFL. Whether that gets harnessed, in D.C. or elsewhere, will also be worth watching. 

Want more Redskins? Check out @JPFinlayCSN and @Rich_TandlerCSN for live updates or click here for the #RedskinsTalk Podcast on iTunes, here for Google Play or press play below. Don't forget to subscribe!

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Redskins Playbook: 2017 schedule reveals some good news for Kirk Cousins

Redskins Playbook: 2017 schedule reveals some good news for Kirk Cousins

The Redskins offense performed at a high level in 2016, moving the ball well though the unit struggled in the red zone. Much of the success comes from Kirk Cousins' ability to quickly advance through his progressions and release the football before he takes too many hits.

Expect more of that in 2017, especially early in the season.

The Redskins don't face their first Top 5 sack defense until Week 9 when they travel to Seattle. From there, Cousins will face another Top 5 sack team when the Vikings visit FedEx Field in Week 10. 

After that, Washington's schedule doesn't feature a Top 5 sack defense until nearly Christmas. Unfortunately for Cousins, those two teams will come back to back in December when the Redskins host the Cardinals and the Broncos.

Sacks should not drive too much worry for Redskins fans. The Washington offensive line only allowed 23 sacks last season, two less than the Cowboys vaunted offensive line gave up on Dak Prescott. Cousins quick release and mastery of Jay Gruden's offense helps too. 

The Redskins have plenty to worry about in 2017, though facing fierce sack opponents shouldn't be too high on the list. 

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Want more Redskins? Click here to follow JP on Facebook and check out @JPFinlayCSN for live updates via Twitter! Click here for the #RedskinsTalk on Apple Podcasts, here for Google Play or press play below. Don't forget to subscribe!

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

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Need to Know: The top five running backs the Redskins will face in 2017

Need to Know: The top five running backs the Redskins will face in 2017

Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, June 25, 32 days before the Washington Redskins start training camp in Richmond on July 27.

Timeline

The Redskins last played a game 175 days ago; they will open the 2017 season against the Eagles at FedEx Field in 77 days.

Days until:

—Franchise tag contract deadline (7/17) 22
—Preseason opener @ Ravens (8/10) 46
—Roster cut to 53 (9/2) 69

The top five running backs the Redskins will face in 2017

Here are the five running backs on the Redskins’ schedule who gained the most yards in 2017. We looked at the top QBs last week.

Ezekiel Elliott, Cowboys, 1,631 yards in 2016—The NFL’s leading rusher didn’t pop for a big day against the Redskins as a rookie last year. He still did plenty of damage in two games with a combined 180 yards and three touchdowns. We’ll find out in Week 8 just how much the Redskins’ rushing defense has improved.

David Johnson, Cardinals, 1,239 yards—Yeah, him again. He chewed up the Redskins in Arizona last year, picking up 84 yards rushing and another 91 yards receiving. I think I might pick Johnson over Elliott in a draft simply due to Johnson’s versatility.

LeGarrette Blount, Eagles, 1,161 yards—Blount picked up those yards with the Patriots last year and rushed for 18 touchdowns for good measure. He averaged 3.9 yards per carry, 27th among qualifying running backs. It should be noted that the Eagles probably have a better offensive line than the Patriots do. It’s safe to say Blount is one dimensional; none of the top 50 in rushing yards had fewer than his seven receptions.

Mark Ingram, Saints, 1,043 yards—While Ingram had a good year, the Saints apparently weren’t overly impressed. They signed Adrian Peterson as a free agent and they drafted RB Alvin Kamara in the third round. We’ll have to see who is healthy and on the field in Week 11

Melvin Gordon, Chargers, 997 yards—The 2015 first-round pick missed the last three games and most of another one with an injury. When healthy, he was very effective. His stats projected over 16 games come to over 1,300 yards.

Best of the rest: Carlos Hyde of the 49ers just missed the top five with 988 rushing yards last year Besides Kamara, the only running backs drafted in the first three rounds the Redskins will face are Dalvin Cook (Vikings) and Kareem Hunt (Chiefs). It will be interesting to see if new Rams coach Sean McVay can revive Todd Gurley, who followed a 1,100-yard rookie season with a 4.8 per carry average by gaining 885 yards with a paltry 3.2 average in 2016. Marshawn Lynch comes to town with the Raiders after spending a year in retirement; with the Seahawks, he picked up 111, 72, and 132 on the ground against the Redskins. 

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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