During training camp, and throughout the past week in particular, it became evident how much the Washington Football Team prized versatility — and what rookie Antonio Gibson could offer. The release of running back Adrian Peterson on Friday hammered home Washington’s belief.
Though Gibson might be the one who emerges, it’s also clear Washington will use a rotation at running back to tap into the multidimensional skills of those who remain.
Peterson was almost a certainty to make the roster entering camp. But in the past week, Washington viewed quarterback Dwayne Haskins Jr. as getting more comfortable with how it wanted to run the offense and use its running backs in particular, and that meant less downhill runs and more versatility from them.
Here’s a look at what Washington now has at the position:
Gibson: He’ll be the one to watch, as his work with the starters increased steadily throughout camp. Gibson, Washington’s 2020 third-round pick, played receiver at Memphis. Though he caught 38 passes last season, he also ran the ball 33 times. Before the draft, his agent said every NFL team viewed him as a running back in the pros. But Washington will also use him in multiple spots and roles — he does sit in on receiver meetings. He has good size with a strong lower body at 6-foot, 220 pounds, so he can run inside one play and line up wide and run a receiver-type route the next.
“There’s a lot that we can do with a young man like him,” Washington coach Ron Rivera said.
Gibson likes that role.
“I’m actually loving it. This is probably the first time I’m not being limited to just doing a certain thing. Usually it’s like, ‘Oh, he can do screens or jets and things like that.’ Here, he has me doing a lot,” Gibson said of offensive coordinator Scott Turner. “So power to receiver to jets to screens, whatever. All of that. It just makes it hard on the defense. I feel like I can help out the team there, because it will always have guys confused.”
And Gibson’s ability to run routes from multiple spots can create mismatches in coverage.
“I feel like nobody can guard me if you line up across from me,” he said. “That’s just my mindset from playing receiver all these years. Linebacker, DB, safety, whoever; you know I’m coming at you.”
J.D. McKissic: Washington signed McKissic as a third-down back this offseason and likes that he is developing in this role. He was a receiver in college before switching full time to running back in 2017 with Seattle. Washington has paired Gibson and McKissic in practice, and coaches hope it leads to confusion for the defense, as both can run routes from anywhere. McKissic would have an overall role similar to what Chris Thompson did in previous years.
Peyton Barber: Washington signed Barber in the offseason in part because it viewed Derrius Guice as unreliable. Guice was released in July. The team likes Barber as a veteran who can help in both the run and pass games. He was unspectacular during four seasons in Tampa Bay, catching a combined 57 passes and averaging 3.6 yards per carry. He’s not explosive, but he does have a role in Washington. Some of that will depend on Gibson’s learning curve.
Bryce Love: At Stanford, Love was a multidimensional back who was a Heisman Trophy finalist and a fourth-round pick by Washington in 2019. But he tore his ACL late in the 2018 college season, and there was concern about what he would be able to do in the NFL. Love hasn’t stood out like the other backs during practice, but in the past week the coaches saw glimpses of his old ways. There’s a feeling that in a couple of months he could perhaps get close to what he once was at Stanford. Early on in Washington’s season, it’s likely he would have a reduced role.
Last week, Love beat some defenders to the end zone on an outside run.
“Don’t fall asleep on Bryce,” Rivera said.