Derrius Guice heard the whispers about his absence while recovering from knee surgery last season. He hadn’t been around the Washington Redskins facility much, because he needed to be close to Dr. James Andrews’s institute in Florida after an infection necessitated an additional surgery. Outsiders wondered why he wasn’t rehabbing with the team, unaware of the infection.
Guice now provides not-so-subtle updates in the form of Instagram videos, with the latest showing the running back on a practice field in Ashburn, cutting around five obstacles, ducking under a hurdle, motoring around a wide circle of cones and finishing with a 15-yard sprint.
That progress, plus the re-signing of last year’s leading rusher Adrian Peterson, leaves Jay Gruden with some decisions to make. The Redskins will be in a timeshare situation in the backfield between Guice, Peterson and Chris Thompson, but there’s only one ball to go around.
“That’s an interesting dilemma right there,” Gruden said. “Number one, Guice has got to get healthy. . . . He’s young, I’m sure it’ll be effortless for him to get back in shape, but still, we’re talking about a major knee injury for a running back. So, it’s something we have to really look at and make sure he’s 100 percent. And make sure he still runs with the same type of energy and charisma and effort he played with before the injury, because sometimes those injuries have an effect on you mentally. I don’t think it will with Derrius . . . but still, you never know.”
The plan was to have Guice as the clear-cut No. 1 back as a rookie last season, after he shined during summer and preseason workouts. He was everything the organization hoped for from the second-round pick out of LSU, and he quickly became a fan favorite at training camp, regularly signing autographs well after teammates had left the field. The feel-good story of camp came to an abrupt end when Guice suffered a torn ACL in the first preseason game.
Injuries piled up in the running back room, and Peterson was signed off the street Aug. 20. No one truly knew how much the 33-year-old future Hall of Famer had left in the tank before Peterson ran for 1,042 yards and seven touchdowns, becoming the Redskins’ top offensive weapon. The team re-signed him to a two-year deal and now have to figure out how best to use him and Guice together.
“Having AP back is nice,” Gruden said. “He rushed for over 1,000 yards. He’s a little bit older, but he doesn’t look it. He’s in great shape. Saw him the other day. It’s a great dilemma to have those two guys.”
Guice is the future of the position and brings a blend of speed, strength and agility after rushing for more than 2,600 yards and 26 touchdowns in his final two years at LSU.
Peterson, however, is one of the best running backs ever to put on an NFL uniform, and he proved durable in 2018 and capable of still handling a full workload. He became the focal point of a run-first Redskins team that looked to win games by limiting turnovers and relying on a staunch defense. That seems to be the likely blueprint for 2019 as well, with quarterback Alex Smith likely to miss the entire season and Colt McCoy and Case Keenum competing to replace him.
[Landon Collins will wear jersey No. 20 for Redskins, not Sean Taylor’s No. 21]
Peterson, though, is a physical runner who wears down a defense and is often most dangerous in the fourth quarter after having already accumulated 15-plus carries. Gruden will have to figure out a way to best utilize the strengths of Peterson and Guice, while Thompson works in on third downs and passing situations. The coach also said he wants to get former fourth-round pick Samaje Perine more chances after he earned just eight carries last season.
“The guy who I really want to see is, who everybody thinks he’s in my doghouse, is Samaje,” Gruden said. “Samaje has not gotten the opportunities, I’m upset about that. That’s my fault. But I have not given up on Samaje. He’s young, he’s strong, he’s physical and I need to see him take that next step.
Gruden doesn’t expect Guice to be full-go until training camp, so there will be summer opportunities for Perine. The plan is for Guice to go through individual drills during organized team activities and see how he feels for mandatory workouts.
Peterson and Guice developed a relationship last season, and the youngster plans to train with the veteran in Texas this summer. Both are competitors, but there’s been no animosity as they enter 2019 with an eye on the same snaps.
Now it’s on Gruden to figure out how best to divvy those up.