- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 11, 2018

ASHBURN — Redskins coach Jay Gruden’s father, Jim, passed down some wisdom when it came to evaluating the running back position. Jim Gruden, after all, had years of experience as a regional scout and a running backs coach in the NFL.

“He always said that durability is the most important trait,” Gruden said.

For the Washington Redskins, durability was hard to come by in 2017.

The Redskins finished the year with five running backs on injured reserve, and seven different backs recorded at least one carry during the season.

Asked if the Redskins‘ starter at running back in 2018 was already on the roster, Gruden quipped, “we have about 30 of them. I hope so, but that’s something we have to look at.”

“We’ve got to have somebody that can play and be available,” Gruden said. “Easier said than done this day and age as physical as the game is and injuries happen, but it’d be nice to have a guy for 16 weeks pounding it. I hope he’s on the roster. We’ll see.”

Washington’s most durable running back throughout the season was rookie Samaje Perine. Drafted in the fourth round out of Oklahoma, Perine appeared in all 16 games, starting eight and led the Redskins with 603 yards.

Perine was durable, but also dealt with various nicks throughout the season. He exited the last game of the season with an ankle injury and did not return.

Perine, though, showed flashes of being a promising running back as the year progressed. Perine said earlier in the year that he needed to work on his patience, and the Redskins believed the rookie was the type of back who got stronger as the game went on.

Perine’s 3.45 yards per carry ranked in the bottom five of running backs that saw a minimum of 85 attempts, per NFL’s Next Gen Stats. But the running back had two games where he broke the 100-yard mark. He was fifth among rookies in rushing yards.

Gruden said Perine had a “decent” year.

The Redskins‘ expected starter, Rob Kelley, did not. His season was cut short because of a high ankle sprain and an MCL sprain, being placed on injured reserve on Nov. 14. Kelley also was sidelined during the season the year with fractured ribs and an ankle injury.

After rushing for 704 yards as a rookie in 2016, Kelley had just 194 yards in seven games.

Thompson, meanwhile, was the Redskins‘ most valuable offensive player — leading the team in rushing and receiving until he broke his fibula on Nov. 19 — besides Kirk Cousins.

Thompson expects to be ready for training camp, but Gruden routinely said during the year that they like to keep him in his role as a third-down specialist. Thompson will be an important part of the Redskins‘ future, if healthy, but the Redskins might need a new main back moving forward.

Kapri Bibbs emerged as an intriguing option for the Redskins‘ future, too. Brought in to replace Byron Marshall, Bibbs was a late season addition who filled the role of the pass catching back on third down. Bibbs had 14 receptions for 128 yards and 79 rushing yards on 21 carries in three games.

Bibbs, 24, signed a two-year contract with Washington, so he will be back fighting for a job next season. While Bibbs was solid in the passing game, Bibbs said he’s a “runner by nature.”

At Colorado State, Bibbs had 1,741 rushing yards for 31 touchdowns in 2013.

“When I was in college, I only caught [eight] passes my whole college career,” Bibbs said in December.

This season, the Redskins finished 28th in rushing yards per game with 90.5 and also 28th in rushing DVOA, which measures efficiency. In 2016, they were fourth in rushing DVOA and in the top 10 of yards per carry (4.5).

Gruden has a reputation of relying heavily on the pass, but has repeatedly said he prefers to have a balance. That was a challenge in 2017 — where the Redskins again ranked in the top half of the league in pass play percentage.

For the Redskins to stick with the run, they have to have a back who can pick up steady yards where they aren’t forced to throw as often.

“We have a lot of backs we got a chance to look at,” Gruden said. “So we have to make some decisions moving forward.”

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