Looking back at the second half of the 2016 season, the Redskins running back depth chart became quite clear: Rob Kelley started, Chris Thompson served as third down back, and Mack Brown claimed the RB3 role.
With the addition of Samaje Perine in the 2017 draft, some questions emerged about that depth chart. One of the biggest questions was what would happen to 2015 third round pick Matt Jones.
It's a well told story by now, Jones started the 2016 season as the unquestioned starter. A series of fumbles and reluctance to play special teams landed him on the bench, and inactive for the second half of the year.
With that backstory surrounding the running back position, watching what backs got carries, and when they got them, had extra meaning in the preseason opener against the Ravens.
The entire Redskins run game looked bad. The stats back that up, as the team ran 18 times for 39 yards, and average of just 2.2 yards-per-carry. Kelley started, unsurprisingly, but then things got interesting. Perine came in next, followed by Thompson.
All three have spots on the 53-man roster, but Perine had an up and down day to be kind. He dropped a pass and fumbled a handoff, while at times looking lost in pass protection. In truth, he looked like a fourth round rookie taking his first ever snaps in the NFL. Perine's final stat line: 6 carries for 15 yards. Not one to remember, but also not one to worry about.
After Perine and Thompson came Jones, not Brown. Jones looked the least effective of all the Washington backs, running 3 times for -1 yards.
Eventually, in the fourth quarter, Brown got in. He had 4 rushes for 13 yards, including a 9-yard gain that looked close to a big run.
After the game, speaking with reporters, Redskins coach Jay Gruden explained that running backs coach Randy Jordan makes the decision on what runners get what work and when in the preseason. A few Redskins players expressed confusion that Brown did not enter the game until after Jones.
One thing to consider: It seems highly unlikely Jones will begin the regular season on the Redskins roster. He has asked to be released or traded, but with new NFL rules that call for just one series of roster cuts after the fourth and final preseason game, Washington is in no hurry to placate the deposed starter.
If the team played Jones earlier in a way to showcase him for other teams possibly interested in acquiring his services, the big back did himself no favors. It's also worth pointing out that if fans and media can read the writing on the wall that Jones will get his release, other NFL teams probably know that too. Why make a trade when Jones might hit the street in a few weeks?
The Redskins are likely to carry four running backs on the roster, with one inactive on game day. Despite the order of playing time in Baltimore, those four project to be Kelley, Thompson, Perine and Brown.
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