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Robert Kelley Leads Way For Running Backs, But Redskins Will Use 'Hot Hand' During Games

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With six capable running backs competing for spots on the 53-man roster, the Redskins will look to ride the player that's performing best on game-by-game situations.

The Washington Redskins enter the 2017 season with youthful depth at the running back position, starting with second-year Tulane product Robert Kelley.

Kelley, 24, worked his way up from deep on the depth chart last season all the way into the starting lineup. Over the final nine games for the Redskins, Kelley recorded 601 rushing yards and six touchdowns.

The coaching staff is confident that Kelley can carry the load better in his second NFL season, especially with an entire offseason of strength training and working with the first-team offense. But that doesn't mean that the team's other five running backs won't see action in the backfield.

"Rob obviously has earned the starting job, and I think really it's a game-to-game evaluation, an in-game evaluation of how well he's doing and how winded he is – 'Does he need a blow?'" said Redskins offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh last week. "We just feel like we've got depth at that position now with a lot of similar-type players: stocky, quick-footed, strong, smart guys that can sub in for each other."

Cavanaugh added that while he "wouldn't put a pitch count" on any of the running backs, if one is going strong in a game they may stay on the field.

"If a guy's got a hot hand and he's feeling good and he's not gassed, we'll keep him on the field," Cavanaugh said. "Ideally, maybe have some third-down reps too. Historically here, Chris [Thompson] has been our third-down back, but there's no reason why can't play him on first and second down. But just rotating the backs, keeping them fresh, we've got confidence in all of them."

Outside of Kelley and Thompson, the Redskins also have Samaje Perine, Mack Brown, Matt Jones and Keith Marshall on the 90-man roster.

Perine was a fourth-round selection for the Redskins in this year's NFL Draft, but there's a belief that he can be a Day 1 contributor, especially if he replicates his career performance at Oklahoma.

In three seasons for the Sooners, Perine recorded a school-record 4,122 rushing yards along with 49 rushing scores.

"He's a physical runner, without a doubt," said Redskins head coach Jay Gruden during the 2017 NFL Draft. "Nobody can argue that point. We got a chance to interview him, sit down with him at the combine. He's also a leader-type player, but really when it comes down to it, he can get from here to there – physically. He's a physical runner and had a lot of production and a lot of yards. He's a great kid. I think he's got a chance to be a special team player also. He's done some of that in his career. Can't argue the production and the toughness that he has, and that's what drew us to him."

Brown, meanwhile, returned to the Inova Sports Performance Center at Redskins Park in Loudoun County, Va., earlier in the offseason with eight pounds of muscle added to his frame. He also spent a portion of the winter working with five-time Pro Bowler LeSean McCoy.

Even though he only recorded carries in a 41-21 victory over the Chicago Bears in Week 16 last year, Brown had the highlight offensive play during that game with a 61-yard touchdown run. When he re-watched that play and even his big run in the preseason finale against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the University of Florida thought he was a little too stiff in his cuts. So he worked with McCoy to improve that facet of his game.

Take a look back at the top images of the Washington Redskins' running backs from the 2016 season.

"You watch [Thompson] every day and see that he is quick but then you see McCoy and I have never seen feet like that in person before," Brown told Redskins.com. "He would just tell me think about Kobe Bryant. Kobe worked on his shot every day, his dribble every day, post moves so why not work on your cuts every day. He was right. I lift and run but I don't do footwork every day. He said he works on his balance and footwork every day so he can come out his cuts better. So ever since then I have been working on coming out my cuts and balance drills."

Jones, of course, was Washington's starting running back for the first seven games of the 2016 season, and was averaging 4.6 yards per carry on his 99 attempts. But injuries and struggles in protecting the football led to Jones being inactive for the final nine games.

As for Marshall, he returns for his second season after spending his entire rookie season on Injured Reserve. Back on the practice field healthy and eager to showcase his blazing speed, Marshall isn't concerned about the injury-prone label some have placed on him.

"I don't focus on that type of stuff, but I want to focus on me and try to get in the best position to go out there and compete to prove what I can do," Marshall said. "Being a forgotten man is not really part of my ego."

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