When Derrius Guice was on the team, the roles at running back were in flux for the Washington Football Team. Now without him, a deep position group has a little more clarity.
Guice was released Friday night following his arrest on domestic violence charges. There were already concerns about him in the building. Before the 2018 draft, when Washington selected him in the second round, Carolina had taken him off its board because of concerns about his knees and character, according to multiple sources. Much of that staff is now in Washington, though running backs coach Randy Jordan was with Washington when it drafted him.
It’s not as if Guice was a huge part of the offense — the potential of him was more than the reality. Because of three knee injuries, he played in five games in two seasons — all in 2019. During that time, he flashed his talent, averaging 5.83 yards on 42 carries.
Last week, Jordan said he told Guice, “The only thing you did this past year is you were an appetizer. I want the whole steak, I want the whole lobster, I want the whole thing.”
Now Washington will have to get that whole thing from someone else. But as one member of the organization said, they’re not freaking out over the situation. They still have a mix of reliable veterans, young talent and intrigue:
Adrian Peterson: Because of Peterson’s production and the questions surrounding Guice, Peterson’s roster spot wasn’t in jeopardy — even at age 35. Peterson has rushed for 1,940 yards over the past two seasons, and though he lacks the versatility the new staff prefers, he can still gain yards. Before he signed here, some close to Peterson told him it was a good spot because of Guice’s knees and the character concerns. Also, Jordan said he thinks an offseason in which they weren’t on the field at all can help an older player such as Peterson stay fresh.
Peyton Barber: The veteran has averaged just 3.6 yards in four seasons but can be a capable backup and adds toughness. Washington signed him in the offseason because it considered Guice unreliable and wanted more depth. The team thinks Barber, who has 57 career receptions, has every-down ability.
“He gives you thump just like Adrian does,” Jordan said. “He’s a pro’s pro.”
J.D. McKissic: He was signed in the offseason to be the third-down back, so his role doesn’t change with Guice’s departure. McKissic, entering his fifth season, provides versatility because of his days as a college receiver. He remains the Sun Belt’s all-time leader in pass receptions (289 in 50 games). McKissic understands how to attack leverage, how to sell a route. In Detroit last season, he gained 433 yards on 72 touches from scrimmage.
Antonio Gibson: Like McKissic, he played receiver in college. However, he also aligned at running back and carried the ball 33 times last season for Memphis. Washington considers him a “Swiss Army Knife” player, able to align wide and run routes or to carry the ball. At 6-foot, 228 pounds, Gibson has good size. But he’s also highly inexperienced at the position. As Jordan said, it’ll take time for him to learn protections and to diagnose blitzes. He’s also sitting in on meetings with the receivers — focusing simply on the routes he’ll run and not the entirety of the position — and running backs. Gibson has talent, but in an odd offseason it could take time for him to grasp all that he needs to do in order to fully contribute. If or when Gibson produces, he’s the one who could fill the role they hoped Guice would after drafting him.
“He is still clay when it comes to running back,” Jordan said.
Bryce Love: He’s an intriguing storyline for Washington. Love was cleared for football activity before training camp but still must show he can be the same player he was before a torn ACL at Stanford in November 2018. If he shows he can be the guy who in the 2017 season was a Heisman Trophy finalist, then Washington has another replacement for Guice. Love can be an every-down back, threatening defenses as a runner — he’s more about speed than Guice was — and as a pass-catcher. But as one member of the organization said after Love passed his physical, questions remain. They won’t know what he can really do until they get into full-team work and see how he cuts in traffic and in a non-controlled environment.
Jordan said Love, at his peak, had similar skills to former Stanford teammate Christian McCaffrey, with his ability to catch passes and also run between the tackles.
“He can attack the edges with his speed. For him, it is just having confidence. Making that cut and getting hit,” Jordan said. “That is the thing with not having any preseason games. It hurts him as a player because he has not played.”