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'Not Once' Did Robert Kelley Look Out Of Place In Starting Lineup

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Redskins head coach Jay Gruden continued to highlight the positives of running back Robert Kelley at the NFL League Meetings, stating the 24-year-old is on track to be a "good back."

When Matt Jones was officially ruled out of the Washington Redskins' Week 8 matchup with the Cincinnati Bengals in London last season, it opened the door for third-string running back Robert Kelley to make his first career start.

Kelley, of course, wasn't originally expected to be in the situation to start let alone be on the field last fall. He was among 14 undrafted free agents signed on May 6, 2016, just days after not hearing his named called in the NFL Draft.

His signing didn't exactly move the needle, either, as he only started 12 of his 50 appearances at Tulane, recording 1,295 rushing yards and six touchdowns on 318 attempts.

But a strong offseason performance turned into an even better collective outing in the preseason. Then in Washington's 27-27 tie with the Bengals, Kelley rushed for 87 yards on 21 carries. His four-yard touchdown run on the offense's opening act capped a 15-play, 80-yard drive in which the rookie carried the ball five times.

"You throw a rookie free agent to the fire like that and to see him play and compete. Not one time did I feel like it was too big for him, not once," Redskins head coach Jay Gruden said at the NFL's annual League Meetings in Phoenix last month. "And that's a hell of a thing to say for a guy out of Tulane who only had a couple carries his senior year. He came right in, he competes on every play. He had some of the greatest two-yard runs that I've seen. He gets back to the line of scrimmage, he keeps his feet moving, he protects the ball [and] he's going to get better in pass protection."

For the season, Kelley tallied 168 carries for 704 yards and six touchdowns.

He is also one of four players in franchise history to record at least 150 carries in a season without fumbling, joining Pro Football Hall of Famer Cliff Battles, Jim Musick and Alfred Morris.

While the 24-year-old now tops the depth chart at running back, the Redskins want to see continued progress from Kelley this season.

Take a look back at running back Robert Kelley's first season with the Redskins.

Chris Thompson may be Washington's primary pass-catching back, but Gruden would also like to see Kelley get a little more involved in the passing game. Last season he caught just 12 passes for 82 yards and a touchdown. Gruden also wants Kelley to be a little better with how and when he determines to hit the hole.  

"I really think, the vision that he has, I think he'll be more patient as a runner this year," Gruden said. "I think he's going to be a good back, I really do."

Unlike last offseason when Kelley was running with the third-team offense, he'll open up workouts at the Inova Sports Performance Center at Redskins Park in Loudoun County, Va., lined up behind quarterback Kirk Cousins.

"When we start out our first-string running back will be Rob Kelley, without a doubt," Gruden said. "We go third down drills it's going to be Chris Thompson. And then the other guys will get their reps when they get them."

And if there's a rookie running back on a similar climb up the depth chart that Kelley went through last season, he'll be ready to hold his ground.

"I'm not scared of competition," Kelley said last month. "Everywhere I went they had a good running back there. I never wondered why anything hadn't been given to me. Even when I came here it was never given to me, I had to work for it. It's a job you have to work for it."

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