With two games in five days under his belt, running back Byron Marshall is adapting quickly to help the Redskins make a final push down the stretch.
Redskins running back Byron Marshall is learning everything on the fly, which means quarterback Kirk Cousins is learning how to teach on the fly, too.
Take the interception he threw against the Giants on Thanksgiving, a pass intended for Marshall that sailed high, went off his fingertips and was returned for a touchdown. Cousins's feet got caught up in the turf upon his release, but the play might have turned out differently had he remembered to tell Marshall, who jumped out into the flat, to run a different route.
"A lot of times we have both – the tight end to my right and the running back to my left – both running flat routes, but with certain route concepts behind it, we sometimes like the halfback specifically to run a different route," Cousins said on Sunday.
"Chris Thompson, probably without saying, would have known maybe where I wanted him and I forgot to remind Byron and I told him after the fact," Cousins added. "I said, 'You're really not wrong, because in that protection, really you're supposed to run a flat route. But, with this route behind it, we'd probably like in this specific play for you to run a different route.' You kind of have those conversations after the fact. What's cool about Byron is when I say that, he gets it right away and he said, 'That makes sense, got it,' and we had a good conversation about it."
Marshall, the Oregon product who was signed from the Eagles practice squad less than two weeks ago after Rob Kelley hit Injured Reserve, has had little time to study the team's playbook. He played sparingly in his first game last Sunday against the Saints and had just a couple days to prepare for the Giants the following Thursday.
Which is to say that plays like the interception are understandable for a player trying to adjust rapidly to a new quarterback and offense, tasked with filling the void left by running back in Chris Thompson, who developed an intuitive ability to read defenses and know his quarterback's thoughts in any given situation.
"I'm just a similar player to Chris," Marshall said. "I'm not trying to replace him or any of the other backs that got hurt. I'm just trying to go out there and play like Byron Marshall and do what I can. I've always been able to catch the ball, played receiver for a little bit in college, so it's nothing new. Just really, just stay patient in my role and make plays when given the opportunity."
To keep pace with his teammates, Marshall has dedicated himself to reading all facets of the playbook
"When I'm at home, I want to go and learn the whole thing, learn the empties, learn all the passing concepts. Just so I can be familiar with it," Marshall said. "You never know what's going to happen, as many times as people have gotten hurt this year, you never know if you're going to need a two-minute drill, you'll just get thrown in the fire. It's better to be safe than sorry, so just be prepared and study your stuff. Just perfect your craft, really."
Cousins likes what he's seen from Marshall so far. Against the Giants, Marshall carried the ball four times for 18 yards and grabbed one pass for 11 yards. As he gets more comfortable, Marshall will also serve as a pass-blocker. Head coach Jay Gruden said Sunday one of the reasons they dressed in pads for their first practice of the week was to evaluate more of their skillsets in that area.
"I think Byron's a player that excites me," Cousins said. "He has some juice to him. He can catch the football and has a good sense of the game. There was some carryover from Philadelphia's offense to our offense and he just seems to understand football pretty well. I think he's got a lot of potential going forward."
For Marshall, the early trials are more motivation for him to prove the type of player he can be and help the Redskins down the stretch in any way he can.
"As a little kid, you look forward to this," Marshall said. "Thursday night, primetime. We just played on Thanksgiving, so everyone was watching that, and now we'll have another chance to go out there and prove how good of a team we are and just keeping making our run towards the playoffs. I'm excited, and I feel like this team is really excited also."