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Will the Redskins go to running back by committee?

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Will the Redskins go to running back by committee?

The Redskins’ ranked 19th in the NFL in yards gained last year and their 4.2 yards per carry ranked 15th. That’s not good enough for a team that is as unsettled as the Redskins are at quarterback. Whether it’s Robert Griffin III behind center or Kirk Cousins or Colt McCoy, the QB will benefit greatly from a running game that is better than something right around the league average.

So there will be changes in way they do things. One is a more power-oriented ground game. The other may be some form of running back by committee.

“The running game nowadays, you need to have a couple of guys that can tote it,” Jay Gruden told Kevin Sheehan and Thom Loverro on ESPN 980 earlier this week. “Sixteen games is a long time, that’s a lot of games, a lot of carries, that’s a lot of hits on these running backs.”

Gruden said that he would like to split up the carries more than he did last year, when he went with what was mostly a one-back attack. Alfred Morris had 265 rushing attempts. The other tailbacks on the roster, Roy Helu, Silas Redd, and Chris Thompson, combined for 59 rushing attempts. That is 82 percent of the carries for Morris, 18 percent for the rest.

In his three years as the offensive coordinator with the Bengals, Gruden spread the workload in different ways in different seasons. In 2012 he had BenJarvus Green-Ellis take 80 percent of the tailback rushing attempts. But in 2011 it was a 70-30 split between Cedric Benson and Bernard Scott. And in 2013 Cincinnati drafted Giovani Bernard and gave him 170 carries to 220 for Green-Ellis (that’s a 56-44 split in percentage terms).

So maybe splitting up the running back carries isn’t so much a matter of philosophy for Gruden as much as doing things the way the quality of his stable of running backs dictates. He told Sheehan and Loverro that he will see who can earn the carries that Morris won’t get.

“I think you give Alfred the bulk of [the carries] and then Matt Jones comes in there, it could be Chris Thompson, it could be Silas Redd,” he said. “We’ll see how camp goes to see who deserves the carries, who’s going to get the carries. They have to prove then can protect the ball, No. 1, and prove they can pick up blitzes, No. 2 and then they will get some carries behind Alfred.”

Redd and Thompson are holdovers from last year but they have combined for only 25 career rushing attempts. Jones was the team’s third-round pick in this year’s draft.

Most backs come into the NFL with some innate ability to run the football. But it’s learning to do the other necessary, less glamorous work that separates an NFL running back from a guy who can find a hole and pick up some yards. If Gruden can find another running back or two we might see more of a running back by committee approach than we have seen with this team in the past.

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How big a need do the Redskins have at running back?

How big a need do the Redskins have at running back?

Do the Redskins have a draft need at running back? It depends on who you ask.

Jay Gruden seems to be very happy with incumbent running back Rob Kelley. Here is what he had to say last month about the second-year back, signed as an undrafted free agent out of Tulane, last month:

“Oh, man, I love Rob Kelley,” Gruden said. “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.”

Kelley played in 15 games last year and rushed for 704 yards and scored six touchdowns. He started the last nine games and if you project his numbers in this games out over a 16-game season you get about 1,050 yards and 11 touchdowns. That’s not Ezekiel Elliott or Le’Veon Bell production but it’s good for a team that is going to rely mostly on the pass.

Gruden also praised third-down back Chris Thompson and backup Mack Brown. In a telling sign, he acknowledged that 2015 third-round pick Matt Jones is still on the roster but he didn’t have much good to say about him.

Why, then, do you see so many draft analysts listing running back as one of the team’s most urgent needs? Mark Maske, who is the Post’s national NFL writer but also a former Redskins beat reporter, has them taking Stanford RB Christian McCaffrey in his mock draft. “There certainly are issues on defense for the Redskins,” writes Maske. But there also is a need at running back.”

Lance Zierlein of NFL.com said that the Redskins “obviously” need a running back as his rationale for mocking Florida State’s Dalvin Cook to Washington at No. 17.

So, what is it? Is Kelley adequate for the Redskins’ needs considering they call pass plays on over 60 percent of their offensive snaps? Would they run more often if they had a back like McCaffrey or Cook? And if they did run more would the offense improve?

I think that running back is like several positions with the Redskins. If they have to get through the 2016 season with what they have they will be OK. But if there is an upgrade on the board when they are on the clock they won’t hesitate to make the pick if he’s the best player available.

We will see what happens if, say, McCaffrey is still on the board when the Redskins pick at No. 17 and top defensive targets like Rueben Foster and Haason Reddick are off the board. That will be the true test to see how committed Gruden and the rest of the organization are to Kelley, Thompson, and company. 

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When talent is there, Bruce Allen has looked past red flags in 1st round of NFL Draft

When talent is there, Bruce Allen has looked past red flags in 1st round of NFL Draft

A four-time Pro Bowler and Super Bowl champ, Aqib Talib has a long and checkered past, which includes multiple arrests and failed PED and drug tests. The problems aren't new either, the talented cornerback was first arrested as a high school student. In college at Kansas, Talib was suspended multiple times and had multiple positive tests for marijuana use. 

Why does this matter for Redskins fans on the eve of the NFL Draft?

Despite all the trouble, Bruce Allen drafted Talib 20th overall in 2008 when the current Redskins general manager was in the same role for Tampa. While Talib's legal troubles and suspensions continued in the NFL, he also proved to be a highly capable cornerback in the pro game. 

The lesson for those trying to determine the Redskins draft board: Allen might be willing to look past red flags if a player presents good value. Talib did in 2008, and there could be opportunities for Washington in 2017.

Reuben Foster jumps to mind, as the talented Alabama linebacker will enter the league in the substance abuse program. While Foster's issues pale in comparison to other allegations about some draft prospects, players like Joe Mixon, Gareon Conley and Caleb Brantley will also present unique circumstances for NFL teams to evaluate. 

GMs are thrust into the unenviable task of determining a player's character, often in short periods of time. As 'Skins director of college scouting Scott Campbell explained, the team grades every player for their football skills first, and only later adds in character information. From Campbell's comments:

When you start to evaluate guys in the beginning, you don’t factor in the character. You don’t grade character, you grade talent. So you don’t throw away somebody early that may have some redeeming quality, or there’s a side to the story you don’t know about. You grade football players as football players first on talent, and then when it comes closer to the draft, you start weeding all that, getting more information, deciding, ‘OK, this guy’s not our kind of guy, this guy’s not a Redskin, this guy could be drafted, but good luck to him.

Thursday night the Redskins will be forced to make a determination on the right player for the team. That decision could include judging a player's character, and that could mean balancing legal or substance abuse troubles with talent and ability.

Talib is only one pick in Allen's long personnel career, but it's one worth noting. 

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