ASHBURN, Va. — Randy Jordan is the Washington Redskins’ running back coach. Considering the extreme youth at the position, tacking on babysitter to his title wouldn’t be crazy. Five of the six backs on the roster have two or fewer years of NFL experience. At 26, Chris Thompson is the closest thing the Redskins have to AARP member.
All that greenness puts Jordan into teacher mode more than other coaches on the staff. With 21-year rookie Samaje Perine, the true babe of the bunch, Jordan is teaching a different lesson.
“Usually when you get young backs in you have to slow them down because they’re so fast and they hit the hole and go,” Jordan told FanRag Sports during Redskins minicamp earlier this month. “We’ve got a Pro Bowl left tackle (Trent Williams). We’ve got a Pro Bowl right guard (Brandon Scherff). We’ve got a good offensive line so you need to slow down, give them an opportunity to work for you.
“I’ve never had to do that with this guy. It was almost like I had to speed him up.”
The hype on Perine’s future in Washington zoomed from the moment the Redskins selected the 5-11, 236-pounder in the fourth round of April’s NFL Draft. That he set the NCAA single-game rushing record – as a freshman – with 427 yards adds to the appeal. Despite Perine’s youth and zero exposure to the NFL game outside of a few practices since joining the team, his on-field instincts are advanced.
“He’s got a good feel for the game. Good feet, good vision. He’s strong as an ox, “Jordan gushed. “I think he’s going to do a very good job for us.”
The combination of his power-packed game and the lack of an obvious lead back on the roster have outsiders thrusting the Oklahoma product high on — if not atop — the Redskins’ projected depth chart.
There’s “Fat Rob” Kelley, the undrafted free agent who led the Redskins in rushing last season. There’s the pass-catching Thompson, Washington’s third-down back. There are rising second-year players Mack Brown and Keith Marshall. There’s also former starter Matt Jones, who may be ex-Redskin Matt Jones before Week 1.
“It’s a good group. It’s a group that’s young, but they want to get better every day,” Jordan said. “You don’t have a 9-10 year veteran in that room. I love their attitude and the way they come to work.”
There’s an inherit challenge for running backs during OTA and minicamp sessions. The lack of hitting and no pads create a poor simulation of the real thing. Defenders aren’t attacking with force because there’s no tackling. In turn, the offensive line isn’t firing off the ball looking for a pancake block.
Yet there’s still plenty of opportunity to impress and surprise.
Playing along with Joe Mixon, a second-round selection by Cincinnati, Perine caught only 10 passes last season with Oklahoma. Based on that minimal production, Jordan wasn’t anticipating much from the rookie in the passing game.
Then he watched practices.
“The thing is, he catches the ball so much better than whatever I thought he could do,” the coach said.
Hinting at a potential receiving role for Perine will only add to the hype. The Redskins don’t have an obvious every-down back, but they have plenty of weapons. Kelley, the odds-on-favorite for a Week 1 start, slimmed down over the offseason and is developing into a three-down threat. Thompson’s shiftiness and ball skills led to a career-year in 2016. Now Perine joins the fray.
“I’ve been in this system. I’ve played in this system,” Jordan said. “This system is conducive to playing multiple backs and that’s what we do. If a guy gets hot, we’re rolling.”
Perine won’t be handed the starting job, but the hype is rolling. Until further notice, there’s no reason to slow down any excitement. If anything, by training camp the hype train might need to speed up.