ASHBURN — The need was glaring, but the Redskins hoped for an internal solution to a vexing problem at running back.
But they were placing a lot of eggs in the Matt Jones basket. There was – and remains – reason to believe Jones can have a breakout season in 2016. He was the clear No. 1 after Alfred Morris departed via free agency, after all.
But Jones, a second-year pro, is hurt now after sustaining a Grade 2 separation of the AC joint in his left shoulder against the Jets in a preseason game on Friday night. The timetable for a return remains murky. He was on the field Monday with his teammates, but not in pads and riding an exercise bike on a side field.
Jones missed the final two games of the regular season as a rookie with a hip injury and was not active for the playoff loss to Green Bay, either. In all, he was injured for four of 17 games. It’s only one season, but Jones has a physical running style. Expecting him to stay healthy might be unrealistic. Not having proven depth behind him is a gamble – but one Washington was willing to take when it didn’t bring in a running back from outside the organization this offseason or select one in the 2016 draft.
“I mean, injuries happen. You can’t stop that from happening, you just recover from it,” Jones said. “But being durable – everybody wants to be durable. Injuries happen, so I mean, I’m not trying to prove nothing to nobody. I know where I stand. I know what I’m here for.”
For now, the Redskins have no intention of bringing in a running back from outside the organization, according to team sources. That could change at any time if a player they like becomes available. But there’s the rub: It’s a bad time of year to add someone.
In eight days, when the first round of NFL cuts occurs on Aug. 30, maybe someone shakes loose. More likely is Sept. 3 when rosters are trimmed to 53 players. Or Washington could wait until the second week of the season when veterans’ contracts aren’t guaranteed anymore.
That’s still a ways off, though. Washington appears willing to see what it has in Mack Brown and rookies Robert Kelley and Keith Marshall. All three will see plenty of time on Friday against Buffalo behind Chris Thompson. But Brown spent most of last year on the practice squad, Kelley was an undrafted college free agent and Marshall was a seventh-round pick after a knee injury derailed his career at Georgia.
“It’s really good work for them to be able to get out there with the ones, against the ones, and have to perform play-in and play-out,” quarterback Kirk Cousins said. “I think that’s going to help challenge them. There were times for me as a first or second or even third-year player where I was kind of pushed into action and it stretches you as a player.”
Kelley has been the best of the bunch so far in practice and – while he had just eight yards rushing against the Jets – managed a key pickup in pass protection that allowed quarterback Colt McCoy to pass for a touchdown. Marshall looked better than the Atlanta game when he had -1 rushing yards. Still, aside from a 10-yard run vs. New York he managed just 16 yards on nine carries.
Buffalo cut running back Karlos Williams over the weekend. The second-year pro showed up to offseason workouts with the Bills overweight. And while he averaged 5.6 yards per carry as a rookie with seven touchdowns, that’s a red flag that could be too much for Washington. There are few other viable options on the open market right now. The hope is Jones recovers quickly and the Redskins move on with the original plan in place. But the thought of injury has to loom even larger now after Friday’s scare.
“We hope it’s one of those things. [Jones] just landed funny,” Gruden said. “He landed on his elbow and his shoulder popped out. It’s a second degree [separation]. We think the recovery time will be pretty quick. He could be a little sore, but I think he’s gonna be fine. Sometimes as a running back you’re gonna fall awkwardly and things like this happen. But we have hopes that he’ll last the season without a doubt.”
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