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WFT Daily: A closer look at Antonio Gibson and J.D. McKissic's different, but pivotal roles

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Antonio Gibson finds an open running lane against the Atlanta Falcons on Oct. 3, 2021. (Emilee Fails/Washington Football Team)

The regular season is here, and we have you covered as the Washington Football Team progresses through its second season under head coach Ron Rivera. Stay up to date with "WFT Daily," which comes out every weekday evening.

It's rare for a team to have one, let alone two wide receivers-turned-running back as their primary ball carriers, but that's the situation the Washington Football Team has found itself in with Antonio Gibson and J.D. McKissic.

In Year 2 of having the duo together, it's working out just fine.

Over the past four games, Gibson and McKissic have combined for 558 total yards and three touchdowns. Gibson is 13th in rushing, while McKissic is fourth among running backs with 142 receiving yards. It's a tribute to their dynamic ability, as well as their ability to play well within their roles.

"They're both very, headsy, smart players," said head coach Ron Rivera. "They're smart young men and they understand the dynamics of the game. And so having them in there for their role so they understand their role is really what I think when you watch what [Offensive Coordinator Scott Turner] does."

While Gibson and McKissic do have a similar skillset -- Turner said the two are like brothers, and McKissic has done a good job of mentoring the second-year player -- they have distinctly different responsibilities that emphasize their strengths.

Outside of a few circumstances, Gibson is Washington's primary option on first and second downs. He's explosive and has improved at reading his blocks, which has led to him averaging 4.3 yards per carry. And given that he has 15 more touches than he did through four games last season, it's clear the team trusts him to take on a heavier workload.

"He's done well, he's improving every week," Rivera said. "That's big, I have really liked the effort. I like what he gets out of practice and gives us during practice. I think he works hard at it and he's just going to continue to grow and get better for us."

If Washington finds itself in a second-and-long or third down scenario, though, then it can turn to McKissic. There's two reasons for that: aside from being an exceptional pass-blocker, McKissic has been one of the best pass-catching running backs in the league. He has the second-most receiving yards among running backs outside of Alvin Kamara.

"With his athleticism, quickness, his skillset...you can create the type of matchup you can exploit, and that's what we've seen," Rivera said.

The beauty of having both of them on the team is that they're talented to fill the other's role, if needed, and that allows Turner to have more diversity in his play-calling.

"There's not really limitations with those guys," Turner said. "And sometimes at that position there's some plays that you're not necessarily comfortable calling. But with those guys, there's some players that I'd rather have one than the other, but nothing that you're like, 'oh man, I can't call this with those guys.' So that makes it really easy."

Gibson and McKissic combined for nearly 2,000 yards in 2020. They're on their way to putting T up similar numbers this season. They'll have another test in Week 5 against the New Orleans Saints, who have been one of the stingiest defenses against running backs. But their abilities as "do-it-all" players might give them an advantage.

"They're both been very productive," Turner said, "and I think that that will continue as the season goes on."

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