Washington’s Running Backs Could Be the Key to Success for Turner
In 2020 Washington’s offense should look remarkably different under new OC Scott Turner. They’ll march out one of the youngest and inexperienced receiving corps in the league, but also boast a group at running back that could take the passing game to the next level.
The athletic ability and dominance of Washington’s defense has been the story of training camp. Second year quarterback, Dwayne Haskins, will have a tall task ahead with so many questions marks on the offensive side of the ball. Going up against a stout and talented defensive line on a daily basis will only help this offense get better.
If Turner’s time in Carolina was any indication, Washington will lean heavily on the run backs this season. Retaining future HOF back Adrian Peterson was a wise move by the new coaching staff. The release of Derrius Guice means AP is likely to see a bigger role in the run game. Having Peterson in the backfield gives Haskins a veteran presence to lean on, when the inevitable struggles arise.
With Peterson in the game, defenses will send out their run defense, more times than not. AP has shown during his time in Washington that he’s a capable receiver and can hurt defenses in multiple ways. AP will likely be Rivera’s bell cow back to start the season, but the other backs on the roster will also have roles and a rotation is likely.
With no exhibition games, it could take a few weeks for Washington’s passing game to click. Establishing the run has always led to success for the tough, hard nosed teams of the past and present. But exotic run alignments have altered the modern passing game, forcing the way defenses play the ball. HC Ron Rivera has stockpiled a group of backs that all offer different skill sets. During last weeks daily presser, Head Coach Ron Rivera was asked how he felt about the group of running backs he has going into the season.
“I think the whole group can contribute. Don’t sleep on Bryce”
Former Stanford running back Bryce Love is an enigma. After a Heisman runner up campaign in ’17, in which he ran for 2,118 yards 19 touchdowns with an 8.1 ypc average, he was viewed as one of the top college backs in the nation before tearing his ACL late in the ’18 season. Some question if he has the ability to be an every down back after the injury. By all accounts, other than a routine cleanup on the repaired knee late in 2019, he has been full go but is the only back of the five that hasn’t received first teams reps.
Turner is on record stating that Love is a back that fits what they want to do on offense. Love’s ability to slash through the defenders was evident during his time at Stanford. It could come down to a numbers game with the logjam at running back or coaches might simply believe Love isn’t ready and could become a candidate for IR.
Another running back with no NFL experience, who could have a breakout 2020 season, is 3rd round rookie RB Antonio Gibson. The former Memphis running back fits the mold of the multi-dimensional runner that Rivera and Turner covet. Nobody should expect to see a Christian McCaffey type impact from Gibson or any other back on the roster this season, but Gibson offers a ton of upside as a pass catcher. Gibson has been rotating with the starting offense and even recorded a touchdown reception from Haskins on Saturday.
During Saturday’s post practice presser, HC Ron Rivera hinted at a role he envisions for the rookie back from Memphis.
“I know we haven’t shown you guys the whole plan, and that’s part of the secret that we’re trying to keep going into the regular season. Antonio is a very versatile young man, solid football player. We’ve put a lot on his plate, we really have, and he’s handled it very well.”
Washington coaches have maintained that Gibson’s position will be a running back, but he has also sat in on wide receiver meetings and participated receiver drills. Although Gibson’s production in high school and college speak on his ability as a receiver, with over twice as many receiving yards compared to rushing yards, he is just scratching the surface of his ability as a running back.
The lack of experience at receiver will likely put Gibson in a position to showcase what he can do as a receiver earlier than expected. With Turner mentioning two back sets being a wrinkle in their offense, utilizing Gibson will open up play-action and create more opportunities in the passing game leading to more mismatches. Gibson’s big play ability as a receiving back who can take a routine dig route to the house, make him an integral addition to Washington’s offense.
Free agent addition J.D. McKissic is another hybrid type back, who was a full time receiver during his time at Arkansas State and yes, they are the Red Wolves. When Washington signed McKissic many believed that he’d take over former Washington RB Chris Thompson‘s role as the teams 3rd down back. It’s becoming more and more likely that Washington will utilize their pass catching backs heavily in Turner’s offense.
With the 5th year back, they have another weapon that defenses must account for as a runner and a receiver. His role should vary week to week based on match-ups, but again, the lack of depth and experience at receiver will lead to more opportunities for the former college receiver.
If Washington decides to keep 4 running backs, Peyton Barber could wind up on the outside looking in. Barber is a seasoned veteran and has received praise from Washington coaches for his practice habits. Although not the most dynamic or versatile back on the roster, his ability to churn out tough yards after contact was evident on his film. Some believe Barber’s skill set makes him an ideal backup to AP, with the other running backs playing more of a complementary role. That may be true, but Barber is a back that many teams would love to have in their rotation.
The odds of Washington keeping 5 running backs might seem slim, but these are unique times with no preseason games. The lack of exhibition games hurts young players and players on the roster bubble. Love and Gibson have not had an opportunity to show what they can do in live NFL action. The buzz among local media is that Love could be the odd man out with durability questions, but The Burgundy and Gold Report isn’t buying that narrative.
As Washington continues to restructure the left side of their O-line, using quick game concepts and utilizing the running backs in the passing game will help keep Haskins off the turf. Washington’s running backs could be the key to offensive success early on for Turner’s offense.
Their top receiver Terry McLaurin will draw a lot of attention after an impressive ’19 rookie year. This will be a great opportunity for Turner to tap into his innovative side, after having the league’s top running back, Christian McCaffrey, in Carolina. Similar to the situation with the Panthers, Turner will have versatile running backs with speed and pass catching ability to mix into his pass play concepts. This offense is a work in progress, but fans should look forward to seeing real offensive innovation, highlighted by big splash plays in the passing game.
By Adam Aniba
Follow on Twitterer @TheBandGreport and on Facebook at https://m.facebook.com/groups/344619956055227
More from the Burgundy and Gold Report….
The Other Guys: 4 Breakout Candidates in Washington
Hail Rookie Spotlight; Antonio Gandy-Golden
The 2020 Linebackers Could Surprise
Hail Rookie Special Edition Q&A with James Smith-Williams
Hail Rookie Spotlight with Antonio Gibson
Getting to Know Kyle Dugger; The Player That Should Be on Washington’s Radar