Which Redskins Reserve Running Back Will Emerge vs. Jets?

WASHINGTON — Redskins coach Jay Gruden insisted this week his team will not abandon the running game after a rough performance in the first preseason game against Atlanta.

The first key is to get starter Matt Jones a few rushing attempts in a row to build a rhythm. Chris Thompson will get his chances, too. But after that there appears to be a shake up.

Keith Marshall, the team’s seventh-round pick in 2016, had five carries in Atlanta for -1 yards. He also had a false start penalty. That’s not going to get it done.

Marshall’s struggles were followed by Robert Kelley’s strong effort. The undrafted rookie had 40 yards on seven carries with a touchdown. He earned repetitions with the second team at practice on Saturday, Sunday and Wednesday and even some time with the first teamers to give Jones a rest.

Marshall spent time with the second teamers, but primarily worked as the third-team back. That’s a step back from his time earlier in camp. Kelley is the beneficiary so far, though Mack Brown (seven carries, 28 yards) will see carries, too.

“[Kelley] was impressive. He’s been impressive since we got him,” Gruden said. “He’s got great vision. He’s built low to the ground and he really runs hard and that showed up against Atlanta and I’d like to see him in an expanded role, see how he does.”

Gruden contradicted himself a bit, though. He also insisted Marshall wouldn’t be buried on Friday in the second preseason game against the New York Jets. Marshall has been widely praised during training camp by GM Scot McCloughan. He hasn’t lived up to that yet, but Washington isn’t ready to give up on him, either.

Gruden insisted that Marshall has had enough “explosive plays out of camp” that he deserved more chances. And the blocking in front of him wasn’t exactly top notch last week. There were a pair of screen passes that went five yards each. But he needs to show more. Kelley is pushing hard for a roster spot.

Brown has been in the shadows a little more. But he’s a downhill runner who was on the practice squad all of last season and knows the system. He’s more decisive than Marshall at this point.

How Gruden and offensive coordinator Sean McVay divvy up the carries once Jones and Thompson are done for the night on Friday should be a good indication of where these reserve running backs stand. No one has the edge in experience. Whoever takes advantage of their opportunities should push for a third and possible fourth roster spot.

“We’ve got some interesting battles there and I like to see these guys get the ball with some looks,” Gruden said.

Follow Redskins reporter Brian McNally on Twitter.

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