As the Redskins prepare to face the Giants on the road, running back Chris Thompson reflected on scoring his first touchdown at MetLife Stadium last December.
The term "next man up" has been thrown around a lot this year at Redskins Park. Between coaches and players, and between all the injuries the team has suffered, it's become, for better or worse, a team motto.
Running back Chris Thompson had to embrace that refrain -- it's code for how backups must approach their responsibilities once a starter can't compete on game day -- last December, when he was called up to the active roster before the team faced the Giants in New York.
Rehearsing that mentality on the practice squad is easy enough, until you earn the promotion. Thompson learned that the entire early December week as he watched game film and realized he'd actually need all the pointers running back coach Randy Jordan was offering. This was real.
"I was putting a lot of pressure on myself because I was like, 'I'm the guy now.' I'm not just looking at this film, I actually got to watch it and really learn and everything, so I was a little nervous," Thompson said. "It's different -- you try not to make it different but it's different."
It was a big change for a player that had spent his work week, like most of the country, aiming for Friday, not Sunday, for the previous three and a half months. As in most competitive arenas, he just needed a little exposure to extinguish the butterflies.
"After I got my first play, in which I just ran a go route, after that I felt pretty good," Thompson said. "I had my first blitz and I thought I took it on pretty good so I was like, 'Alright, all I need is to get hit one time and all the nerves go away.' So once I got the first blitz pick-up I was like 'Alright, we can go.'"
Shortly after, Thompson was celebrating his first touchdown in the NFL.
With the Redskins trailing 7-3 to the Giants in the second quarter, and facing a third down on the New York 9-yard line, Thompson chipped a defender in shotgun before peeling out to his right. Quarterback Robert Griffin III found the easy outlet toss and Thompson scampered into the end zone untouched for his first professional score.
Check out these photos of the Redskins' offense preparing for their Week 3 matchup against the New York Giants Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2015, at Redskins Park in Loudoun County, Va.
"It was a December game, so I'm trying to stay warm because that was the first cold game I played in since I've been here," Thompson said. "So I was trying to keep warm and everything. Once you get out there, start running around, it's football you know."
A lot has changed since learning to shake those nerves. Thompson has progressed into the team's third-down running back, often used in short passing situations like the one he scored at MetLife last year.
Head coach Jay Gruden was impressed with Thompson throughout training camp, and he's taken on the double responsibility of being a kick returner to start the 2015 campaign.
"I'm a lot smarter now than I was then," Thompson said. "So mentally I can go in with a calm mind. I'm going to still have a little nerves but I can go into the game with a calm mind and just play ball."
And while the mentality differs from his last visit, Thompson knows he'll have similar duties on a short week, protecting quarterback Kirk Cousins from the bull rushes the Giants will bring, especially on third downs, a time which Thompson said New York provides varied, odd looks.
As for Matt Jones, who had a bit of a coming out party last Sunday against the Rams, Thompson knows he'll be ready for prime time, if only because he's played in big games his entire college career at Florida. With the best rushing game in the league the past two weeks, he knows Thursday is another opportunity to prove themselves.
"Coach Jordan brought it up saying, 'This is a primetime game. Everybody is going to be watching and seeing what we're all about,'" Thompson said. "I know [Matt's] going to be nervous early on, but once he gets rolling and gets in his groove, he's going to be the Matt we saw Sunday."