- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 23, 2017

ARLINGTON — Maybe Jay Gruden winked. Maybe there was a little something-extra to a slap on the back. Through the first stages of offseason workouts, something told Redskins running back Chris Thompson that his coach has high expectations for him this fall.

“I have a feeling that I might get a little more this year,” Thompson said before hitting the greens at Army Navy Country Club, where the Redskins held their foundation’s annual Golf Classic Monday.

“He (Gruden) knows now that I’m healthy and I can stay healthy which I think that was one of his biggest concerns. So now he’s seen that I can handle the load, I think I’ll get a lot more opportunities this year.”

Thompson had a career year in 2016 and carved out a sizeable role for himself as a third-down back. He gained 705 yards (356 rushing, 349 receiving) and scored a career-high five touchdowns (three rushing, two receiving) playing the first full 16-game slate of his career. He played 45.94 percent of offensive snaps, more than any other running back.

Here’s the rub: ‘I’ve got a feeling’ is either a Beatles or a Black Eyed Peas song, depending on who you ask, but it’s not a promise. There was no particular reason or conversation that led Thompson to believe his role is set to become larger, something Gruden wasn’t ready to commit to Monday.

“We’ll see on that,” Gruden said. “I think Chris Thompson’s role is big. When you’re talking about third downs, that’s the most important down in football.”

The Redskins have penciled-in Rob Kelley as their starting running back and like fourth-round draft pick Samaje Perine, so touches on first and second downs may be hard to come by. Like the coaching staff, Thompson has been impressed with Perine.

“He looks good,” Thompson said. “Big boy. When I saw him you know I heard he was a really big guy but he’s huge, so I think it’s going to be a big compliment to our run game and help us out a whole lot.”

While players like the 5-11, 233-pound Perine win with strength and downhill power, Thompson spent the offseason working on his route running. He was able to dedicate his focus there, in particular, after spending past offseasons rehabbing various injuries.

In April, Thompson signed the one-year restricted free agent offer the Redskins tendered him in March.

“I’m just glad I’m here. At least for another year and hopefully for years to come,” Thompson said.

Without a long-term deal, Thompson’s security is limited. He can feel hopeful about taking on a bigger role and nervous about surviving roster cuts simultaneously.

“I always do,” Thompson said. “Even after the last preseason game when you guys talk to me again I’ll still be nervous when that time comes around.”

Thompson may find a bit of solace in the fact that he is certainly in the Redskins plans, where the 5-8, 195-pound player’s skills as a pass-catcher serve him well.

“Third down, red zone, you talk about situational football and there’s nobody better as a third down back in my opinion than Chris, so he’s got a huge role on this football team,” Gruden said. “Whether he does some more stuff on first and second down will be determined, I’m sure he will, but he’s so valuable on third down that I’ve got to keep him in that role for now.”

One-year deal aside, the Redskins have made a long-term investment in Thompson, who they stuck with despite injuries that held him to just six games in his first two seasons with the team. Thompson’s last two seasons at FSU were cut short by broken vertebrae as a junior and a torn ACL as a senior, so Washington could have decided the 2013 fifth-round pick was too big of an injury risk and cut him. Instead, they stashed him on the practice squad for a while and waited until Thompson was healthy and the roster had an opening.

“At that point, you would think that somebody would get rid of you and you know, try to move on but they stuck with me, they believed in me and I just worked my butt off to get to where I am now,” Thompson said.

Such is the nature of playing running back in the NFL: The Redskins have shown loyalty to Thompson and he believes he has a bright future with the team. Yet, he worries. Luckily, any roster concerns aren’t dampening Thompson’s excitement.

“You know, it’s the NFL so it’s competition every single year, nothing is ever set in stone, unless you’re AP or somebody like that, but it’s going to be a fun one,” Thompson said.

Someone tell Thompson it took AP (Adrian Peterson) months to find a two-year deal laden with near-impossible incentives. Or perhaps don’t. It takes some blind optimism to survive as a back in this league, and Thompson has done well by embracing that.

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