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Rob Kelley keeps Fat Rob nickname, but abandons chips, sugar

Redskins running back Rob Kelley says he feels more "explosive" after cutting 5 percent of his body fat. Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports

ASHBURN, Va. -- The nickname remains, but it's even less applicable than it was a year ago. Washington Redskins running back Rob Kelley still goes by Fat Rob, a nod to his college days, an equal reflection of his inner toughness and any excess body fat.

But after last season, Kelley knew he could do more. So among this offseason tasks: trim the body fat. He cut out processed foods and sugar and snacks such as potato chips and granola bars, replacing them with bananas, cut-up apples and watermelon. Now Kelley said he has around 13 percent body fat, down from 18 percent at its peak last season.

He's not necessarily a new man, but he and the Redskins hope he's an improved one.

"I feel more explosive, faster, getting in and out of cuts a little better," Kelley said.

It stems from abandoning childhood eating habits.

"Got to if you want to keep this job," Kelley said.

That's because the Redskins drafted Samaje Perine in the fourth round of the draft, issuing a challenge to Kelley. Redskins coach Jay Gruden told Kelley the starting job is his to lose. But Kelley will be pushed, which is why he tried to expand his game during the offseason. He said last week that Gruden told him the team would run more. The Redskins want to use more play-action passes, which means, potentially, more runs -- and if both Perine and Kelley can run effectively then it puts the offense in a much better spot.

"It's hard not to say you don't feel some type [of pressure] when they bring another back in," Kelley said. "But it's the [NFL], someone comes in every year to try and take your job. If Samaje comes in here and does what he has to do, it's not his fault if he's playing better. I have to play better than him so I don't feel no type of way. It's all on me."

Kelley, an undrafted free agent in 2016, replaced Matt Jones as the starter after seven games last season. Kelley finished with 704 yards and ran well enough that Jones wants out. The Redskins don't have plans to release him any time soon, but if everyone stays healthy then Jones is a longshot to make the roster. Chris Thompson will be the third-down back.

To strengthen his grip on the starting job, Kelley worked this offseason on catching the ball better. It wasn't as much his hands as it was his focus: At Tulane, coaches said Kelley caught the ball well.

"For some reason it was hard for me to catch the ball and I had to get back to what I know best and catch the ball," Kelley said. "It's more just calming down and taking a deep breath and catching the ball.

"If you look at the league now all the running backs are catching the ball. If you want to be in the top tier, that's what you have to do."

Kelley also said he worked on his pass protection skills, having safety Su'a Cravens run at him and work on making sure he slid his feet and kept his hands in the right spot against an athletic player.

But ultimately if Kelley is running well he'll hold onto the job. In his first three starts last season he averaged 4.79 yards per carry, gaining 321 yards. However, in the last six he averaged 3.3 yards a run and managed only 280 yards. It was a lesson learned.

"Sometimes I found myself not trusting my linemen and going off-schedule," Kelley said. "This year it'll be in my best interest to trust my line. You can go back and see a lot of runs where I cut up too early and the hole is outside. So just maturing as a runner and believing those cutback lanes will be there for me."

Gruden said Kelley looks slimmer and has matured as a runner. Earlier in the day, Gruden had joked with Kelley about his long climb to the top, saying he was the "ninth string running back" at this time in 2016.

"Now he's the guy, so it's exciting to see how far he's come in a short period of time," Gruden said. "With that experience comes confidence. He's more confident with every rep he takes. ... Now it's just natural to him. He can be a runner and he's very gifted in that regard, finding holes and running through people."