- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 13, 2018

The Washington Redskins were in the bottom 10 of the NFL in rushing attempts and bottom five in rushing yards last season. It was no surprise when the team added a running back in the 2018 NFL Draft.

But second-round pick Derrius Guice did not automatically become the team’s feature back. Washington still employs Chris Thompson, their best player at the position a year ago, as well as Samaje Perine and Rob Kelley.

Guice insists he wants to help the team however he can, and has not said whether he thinks he will fit into the offense in a particular way.

“However (head coach) Jay (Gruden) or (running backs coach) Randy (Jordan) want to use us, that’s how it’s gonna go,” Guice said at the Redskins’ rookie minicamp Friday. “I can’t really predict how me and Chris and Samaje and Kelley are all of us going to be used. We get in where we fit in.”

But in Guice, the Redskins now have a talented complement to Thompson. One models himself after Marshawn Lynch; the other is a pass-catching back through and through. Their different styles could mean we will see Washington use them on the field together in 2018.

According to Sharp Football Analysis, the Redskins lined up with two running backs on 24 snaps last year. Only five teams used two backs less frequently. That is partly because Washington did not have a pure fullback on the roster, and partly because the running backs dealt with injuries early and often.

But this year’s offense can utilize Guice and Thompson not only in a rotation of runners in the backfield, but also on the field at the same time if Gruden and his staff want to.

Thompson caught 39 passes for 510 yards and four touchdowns in 10 games before his season-ending broken fibula. More than 56 percent of his career offensive production has come from receiving yards. And yet, it’s a talent the Redskins could use even more often.

For one thing, it’s a league-wide trend at the moment. Nine running backs had 58 or more receptions in 2017; before his injury, Thompson was on pace to catch 63. For another, new quarterback Alex Smith is known for targeting backs in the passing game.

Gruden was reluctant to treat the 5-foot-8, 191-pound Thompson like a standard runner last year, declining to increase Thompson’s carries in September when both Perine and Kelley were sidelined with injuries. It might behoove the staff to view Thompson in a Darren Sproles-esque role and line him up as a slot receiver in certain packages.

That likely won’t be the case with Guice, who has a reputation as a patient but “angry” power back. For two years at Louisiana State University, Guice shared a backfield with Leonard Fournette, who went on to be the No. 4 pick in the 2017 draft, and Guice was never overshadowed by his similarly-built teammate.

So Guice and Thompson can line up in the backfield together, or Thompson can motion out as a third or fourth wide receiver with Guice taking a handoff or a play-action motion. It’s not that Guice can’t catch passes or Thompson can’t run between the tackles — using each back one-dimensionally might tip opponents off about what to expect — but each back clearly has his own style.

Guice has not talked with Thompson yet, but said he’s eager to learn from the five-year veteran.

“When those guys get back and we start practicing with the vets, having meetings with the vets, I can ask them questions,” Guice said. “What was easy for him to learn? How did he process everything so quickly? How did he learn the routes and stuff so easily? I’ve got a lot of questions for him, so I can’t wait to meet with him.”

Gruden seems to expect Guice to be ready to run with the veterans later this summer, indicating Friday that the rookie is a fast learner.

“He’s really excited to be here. He’s willing to learn,” Gruden said. “He’s first in the meeting, got his playbook open and just soaking in all the knowledge.”

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