It’s almost as if the 2017 season never ended. The Washington Redskins dealt with serious injury after serious injury a year ago. And after their first preseason game, they had to deal with yet another crucial blow, one that could alter the direction of their season.
The player they had drafted to finally provide a strong running game is out for the season after one preseason game. An offense that had hoped to be more versatile will now be questioned.
In some ways it’s hard to say what the Redskins have lost with running back Derrius Guice now sidelined with a torn left ACL. He hadn’t yet played a game. But the promise of what he could do left others feeling good. His presence was supposed open up the attack, allowing the Redskins to move away from relying on the pass for consistent success.
Now we’re back to the same question the Redskins faced in 2017: Can they coax a consistent run game from Rob Kelley and Samaje Perine? Coaches say both players are quicker this summer, owing to their familiarity in the offense and perhaps having shed some weight.
Perine did look quicker Thursday vs. New England; he also was inconsistent running up the middle and lost one ball (a quick whistle negated a likely fumble). Kelley has lost weight and also ran with a little more pep. In two seasons he’s averaged 3.9 yards per carry. Will they be any different this season? Not if the blocking -- the line and the tight ends -- doesn’t improve. Good health will help the line, but after last season -- and now with Guice out -- does anyone want to predict that will happen?
The ground game was inconsistent last season with the same group, ranking 30th in yards per carry and 28th in total rushing yards. The hope for Guice was that he could help create extra yards with his vision and quick cuts and violent running style, overcoming whatever blocking issues arose. He also excelled in the red zone at LSU, and the Redskins ranked 25th in red zone yards per carry last season.
They also have Chris Thompson, who's coming off a broken fibula. They will keep either Byron Marshall or Kapri Bibbs, but both are third-down types. They could always call a veteran; Adrian Peterson and former Redskins running back Alfred Morris are among those unsigned. A team source said Friday they will go with what they have.
The season isn’t over for Washington. The Redskins have built a young defensive line that should be good and help improve the defense. They have talent at the skill positions, though there are questions about how much Josh Doctson will improve. There’s also the annual guessing game about how many games tight end Jordan Reed will play. With Guice, though, they could rely on a running game and an improved defense and then let Alex Smith do what he does best: manage games and distribute the ball.
In many ways this season's team is comparable to 2017's, though with a better defense and a more settled quarterback situation. Before last season, most who covered the Redskins had them in that range of seven to nine wins. And despite all that went wrong for them last year with injuries, they were two plays away from being 9-7: a catch by Doctson in the end zone against Kansas City and a failed third-and-1 to run out the clock in New Orleans. But when you lose key players, you must rely on winning at the details of the game -- situational football, good special teams, etc. The Redskins have not done so. It's more important than ever, in a tough NFC, to do so.
They’ve boasted about their improved depth. If so, they should withstand this loss. They just now face more questions than before. It’s not what Redskins coach Jay Gruden, entering his fifth year, wants. The same goes for a fan base that was stung by all the injuries in 2017.
For Guice, it’s safe to say few were more excited about the season than him. Thanks to his talent and engaging personality, Guice had quickly become one of the Redskins' most popular players. He loved football and how it had lifted him from a tough childhood. In the spring, he talked about the upcoming season. The passion was evident.
“I get the chills thinking about it,” he said. “We’ve been grinding, bro. I’m just ready to ball. I’m ready to grind. I’m ready to do what I was drafted to do.”
Now he, and the Redskins, will have to wait. He will recover from his injury. The Redskins have to do the same.