Washington Redskins coach Mike Shanahan was blunt with rookie running back Chris Thompson.
"No matter how good you are, if you fumble you can't play," Shanahan said after Thompson's second turnover in two preseason games on Saturday afternoon against the Buffalo Bills.
There was no damage done on his third-quarter fumble in the Redskins' 30-7 victory. Teammate Dezmon Briscoe was there to fall on the football. But it is a message Thompson hears loud and clear.
Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan stuck with Thompson, who finished with 15 carries for 44 yards against the Bills. It wasn't a banner day. His longest run was nine yards and he averaged just 2.9 yards per carry. But ball security is the short-term goal for a player with electrifying speed.
"Just got to realize that's part of football. You're not going to be perfect every single play," Thompson said. "You're going to have mistakes and you've just got to put them behind you. That's what any football player should be able to do. And if you don't you'll continue to be in the tank game after game."
In the end, the presence of Alfred Morris, Roy Helu and the injured Evan Royster (left ankle) may keep Thompson on the practice squad to start the season. That's not exactly where the fifth-round pick from Florida State hoped to be.
But he also missed much of training camp finishing his recovery from a torn ACL (left knee) sustained as a senior in college last fall. Thompson, who broke two vertebrae in his back as a junior, also had his left shoulder pop out of place on a fumble in last Monday's preseason win over the Pittsburgh Steelers. At 5-foot-7, 192 pounds, durability is always going to be a concern.
Thompson may not have had enough time this preseason to prove that he deserves a roster spot at running back. It won't be his last chance, however. Versatility helps. By stepping in to return kicks against the Bills on Saturday after an injury to Richard Crawford, Thompson added to his resume. He hadn't done that since his freshman year at Florida State.
And yet Thompson opened the second half with a 27-yard kick return to set up the Redskins' first drive. He had a 31-yard punt return late the third quarter and averaged 16 yards on three returns.
On one of them teammates kidded Thompson for running forward at a punt to field it - an exceedingly good way to get demolished by oncoming defenders. It is possible to be a little too brave even for NFL players' tastes. But his coach noticed.
"[Thompson] had no fear catching that punt return and almost broke it for a touchdown," Shanahan said. "A lot of guys after they fumble, they're concentrating so much on their mistake that they can't focus on catching the punt return. So that was very impressive."
Thompson hadn't fielded a punt in a game since he was a senior in high school. The result the last time he did it? A touchdown. You can see why the coaching staff looks beyond Thompson's size and injury issues. And with Crawford finished for the season with a torn LCL in his left knee, an opportunity has arrived.
"I'm glad coach put me out there," Thompson said. "He just was grinding me, giving me the ball like two or three plays back to back just trying to get me back in the groove of everything."
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