RICHMOND — Redskins running back Chris Thompson stood chatting with reporters on the drill field at Bon Secours Training Center when he felt a playful shove from behind.
Washington coach Jay Gruden, the guilty culprit, kept a straight face and kept walking. Thompson just smiled.
It’s been a long journey for Thompson, who endured multiple major injuries at Florida State (broken back, torn ACL, left knee) and was knocked off the field as a rookie (torn labrum, left shoulder) and spent most of his second season on the practice squad. But last year finally marked a breakthrough.
Thompson appeared in 14 games, including the postseason, and caught 35 passes for 240 yards with another 35 rushes for 216 yards. He was a nice fit in the backfield with Alfred Morris and rookie Matt Jones.
But Morris is gone now – off to Dallas via free agency – and Jones is trying his hand as a No. 1 back, though there are questions if he can make that immediate leap.
The conventional wisdom was the Redskins had to bring in a veteran back to pair with Jones. Gruden has admitted even during training camp this week that it remains a possibility.
But there just hasn’t been a clear fit in free agency and the Redskins stayed away from running backs in the draft. After recovering again from offseason shoulder surgery (torn labrum, left shoulder), Thompson has a legitimate chance to fulfill that role.
“Every guy always dreams of being a starter, but for me, since I’ve been here, I’ve understood what my role is,” Thompson said. “Even though I’m labeled as a third-down back my role can continue to expand. I could possibly be that No. 2 to Matt. If he gets tired I can be the one that’s spelling him here and there.”
Thompson wants to be a better route runner. He changed his diet to stay healthy – no more Hershey’s cookies and cream, unfortunately – and tried to get stronger after rehabbing his shoulder to help in pass protection. He hopes to become a better third-down back, but knows if no one else is brought in there are carries to be had. He wants to be ready.
Thompson is now the “old” man in the room at age 25. He joked about how the younger backs in camp come to him for questions instead of running backs coach Randy Jordan. Jones is in his second year, running back Mack Brown was on the practice squad all last season and the three other backs in camp are rookies.
“I think Chris Thompson is really the veteran of that room,” Gruden said. “High-class, high-character type of runner. Very dependable, accountable, and he’s everything you want. We just have got to keep him healthy, obviously.”
There lies the risk. The Redskins might believe Thompson can be a nice complement to Jones. He has had dynamic plays in the screen game and has also looked good in camp so far running the ball. For now, they are willing to give Thompson the chance.
“That means a lot to me as well as Matt and even the young guys that’s come in,” Thompson said. “This organization believes in us as a young group and we just have to continue to get better and show them that they made the right decision.”
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