Despite a limited amount of playing time, running back Robert Kelley is continuing to impress and create a good problem for the Redskins coaching staff: plenty of effective runners.
Robert Kelley's touches have been limited, but he's continuing to draw attention from the Redskins coaching staff. He had only three carries in Sunday's win over the Baltimore Ravens, but his 16-yard scamper in the third quarter was Washington's longest run of the day.
"Just go out there and don't make mistakes," Kelley told ESPN 980 Tuesday on how he can continue to get more carries. "Let the guys know they can believe in me and put me out there and know they don't have to worry about me messing up and stuff like that."
The Redskins are currently a respectable 15th in the NFL, averaging 4.1 yards per carry as a team after finishing 30th in the category a year ago. Washington's lead back, Matt Jones, had a monster game two weeks ago, totaling 117 yards on 22 carries in a win over the Browns. However, he was bottled up for just 31 yards on 14 totes against the Ravens.
The Redskins' third-down back, Chris Thompson, has shown flashes in limited opportunities, gaining 83 yards on 17 carries this season. Then there's Kelley, who has appeared in each of the last three games, totaling 29 yards on eight carries. It's not much, but it's a start for the undrafted rookie from Tulane, who appears to have the attention of Redskins head coach Jay Gruden.
"I think you'll see more of Robert," Gruden said Monday. "I think Robert shows that he's deserving of some carries. You know, we like Matt Jones, but I think there's a good combination there where the both of them can get the ball. And we'll have to monitor that, and [running backs coach] Randy Jordan's going to look at that. We're going to, you know, depending on how many carries Matt gets, Robert obviously we want to mix him in there to keep Matt fresh and keep Robert fresh and get a different look from time to time. Robert had a couple of good hits, he really did. So I think he deserves a couple more shots."
The Redskins learned most about Kelley in the preseason as he was consistently effective, running for 198 yards on 38 carries while spending time with all different levels of the Washington depth chart due to Jones's shoulder injury in the second preseason game. That allowed Kelley to make the 53-man roster out of camp, and be active in each of the five games this season.
However, it wasn't until Week 3 in New York when Kelley received his first chance due to Jones getting his bell rung on a carry in the third quarter. Kelley carried on the next play for the first time in his NFL career, but slipped on the MetLife Stadium turf and fell down to gain just one yard. He was pleased that didn't happen again Sunday in Baltimore.
"It felt good to be in there," Kelley said. "I just wanted to make sure I didn't slip and fall this time."
Kelley is confident that he is becoming more comfortable with NFL games from both being involved on the field and watching on the sidelines.
"I think you learn a lot, like the first week we played Pittsburgh and I watched DeAngelo Williams run, how patiently he runs and then we come back and watch Isaiah [Crowell] run the ball," Kelley explained. "I think you learn how those guys be patient and hit the hole and be decisive. So when I get in there I try to imitate their game a little and see if it works for me. Sometimes it works and sometimes it don't."
The transition to the NFL was smoother for Kelley thanks to his days at Tulane, where head coach Curtis Johnson brought plenty of concepts from the New Orleans Saints playbook after spending six seasons as the wide receivers coach. "Fat Rob," as Kelley was referred to after showing up to camp his senior year as he said, "a little chubby," – too much, "New Orleans eating. Popeyes and stuff," – was more of a between the tackles runner. He believes he has evolved in his time with Redskins running back coach Randy Jordan to read when to run outside, and when to cut back up field – a trait he's always had.
"I think its instinct," Kelley said on running aggressively. "I don't think you can teach stuff like that, not trying to sound like I'm cocky somewhat. I think it's real hard to teach. Sometimes you'll be right, sometimes not. But if you go off your instincts I think it will all work out for you."