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Pass protection key to Redskins rookie Samaje Perine's playing time

The Redskins like what they've seen from Samaje Perine, but he has some work to do with his technique in pass protection. Geoff Burke/USA TODAY Sports

ASHBURN, Virginia -- The first outing wasn’t what the Washington Redskins hoped to see from rookie running back Samaje Perine. They did, however, like how he responded -- both in the game and throughout the week.

Now they need to see it vs. Green Bay on Saturday night in their second preseason game. If Perine wants to challenge for the starting job, or simply garner more playing time, he’ll have to show steady growth, both as a runner and in protection.

Running backs coach Randy Jordan loved how Perine handled two blitz pickups in a one-on-one drill, positioning himself properly. But head coach Jay Gruden said that the Packers will naturally show different looks than what Baltimore did, which makes the game a good test for Perine. The same will be true in the third preseason game vs. Cincinnati.

“How we adjust, how we plan and how he adjusts to each different protection is going to be how successful he can be as a running back in the NFL,” Gruden said. “Chris Thompson obviously is as good as anybody, but we’ve got to get another guy to be able to step up and do that. And that’s hard. We change protections at the line of scrimmage like that ... and they have to adjust -- not only adjust to the right person, but adjust and get their body in the right spot and then finish the block.”

That’s what caused problems in the opener against Baltimore -- but also some optimism. There were two times when Perine was positioned to the right of the quarterback in shotgun formation and had to pick up a blitz from the other side. On the first one, Perine arrived just in time to shove the strong safety out of the way.

“He did his job, but the technique was wrong in terms of closing the gap and going from inside-out,” Jordan said. “But this is the thing I love about him: He can quickly adapt. They came with the same blitz, same protection. He’s crossing the quarterback and he comes over face-to-face, grill-to-grill. Done.”

Another time, Perine, who declined comment for the story, was fooled by a stunt up the middle that also featured a blitzer off the edge. That was all about experience.

“It’s a protection where he sits in that gap until the world ends,” Jordan said. “He hasn’t been in that situation. He has to be ready to squeeze [the gap] with the center. He was just floating around, so by the time he turned around, it was so fast the linebacker was able to loop around and make a hit.”

Jordan also wants to see Perine run the way he did at Oklahoma, prompting the Redskins to pick him in the fourth round. Perine did drop a pass vs. the Ravens, but he’s shown soft hands in practices. But Jordan wants Perine to better understand situational running.

“In his mind, the wheels are spinning a little bit,” Jordan said.

He said like other rookies, Perine (six carries, 15 yards last week) must get used to trusting his fundamentals, his technique and footwork. Also, he must know on third-and-1, there’s no time to do anything but slam into the hole. Against Baltimore, he picked up a first down in that situation, but he didn’t hit it the way Jordan wanted.

“He got it and tried to feel his way,” Jordan said. “As soon as you hear third-and-1, the mentality is, ‘I’m cramming this ball.’ Something has to go wrong to bounce the ball outside. Those are the types of things turning in his head. He’s a natural runner. He has great feet. Samaje is so strong, and he catches the ball a lot better than we ever thought. The thing with him, we have to get to a point where he’s not able to run everyone over, and we have to go to a move where he has to slip out of the way. Everything for him is, ‘I’m going to run you over.’"

Jordan pointed to another example: Early in camp, Perine turned the edge and was left with corner Josh Norman. Some corners -- perhaps many -- can be run over. It reveals Perine’s mentality but also an area in which he’ll grow. It's also a lot harder to get a back to run someone over than to do the opposite.

“What he’s trying to do is, ‘I’m gonna challenge your ass and try to run you over,’" Jordan said. “Josh is going to try and hit you. You have to know who am I matched up on this week. Is this a guy who can stand me up or a guy I have to give a shake and make him miss? Those are the things he has to get.”