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Rob Kelley's starting debut could lead to RB shift for Redskins

Rob Kelley's first start resulted in a 21-carry, 87-yard game on Sunday. Dan Mullan/Getty Images

ASHBURN, Va. -- The Washington Redskins entered the season clear on their running back rotation. At the midway point, however, it’s not so clear.

Matt Jones was the No. 1 guy for the first seven games, but he got hurt and that gave undrafted free agent rookie Rob Kelley a chance vs. the Cincinnati Bengals. It also didn’t help that, while Jones had some strong games, he also continued at times to be indecisive costing him yards. Fumbles continue to be a problem for him as well. Third-down back Chris Thompson also has been effective at times.

“To say that one is so much better than the others – if we had a clear-cut, No. 1 guy, it would be different,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. “But we have a couple guys that are worthy of getting the ball.”

Jones missed Sunday’s tie with the Bengals because of a sprained knee. Gruden said he’ll continue to get treatment and “hopefully” practice when they return from the bye next week.

Meanwhile, Kelley’s first start resulted in a 21-carry, 87-yard game in the 27-27 tie. He wasn’t perfect, but he consistently ran tough. On some carries, he bounced off defenders leaving his teammates on the sidelines shouting and punching air. Those on the field appreciated it as well.

“He kept running forward,” Redskins tackle Trent Williams said. “He’ll give you second, third, fourth, fifth efforts. He keeps the pile moving. I’m certainly impressed by that. As a lineman, as soon as I feel the pile, I let my guy go and help clear it off, and you’d notice he’s still going. That shows a lot of toughness out of him, that he continues to pound the rock like that.”

Kelley had not carried the ball more than five times in any game before Sunday. In his first couple games this season, he, at times, appeared overanxious to hit the hole, but that soon dissipated. But Gruden said some of that returned Sunday.

“He ran physical and made some nice runs. I think he pre-determined a couple cuts here and there, maybe didn’t let the play develop a little bit like we would like,” Gruden said, “but for the most part I was happy the way he ran. He ran physical, and he ran hard. That’s a pretty darn good first day for the guy as far as being a lead-down back. I like what I saw in Robert, but it’s not out of the possibility that Matt Jones could come back in here and get some of those reps back.”

The Redskins have been intrigued by Jones because of his size – 6-foot-2, 232 pounds. But when he becomes indecisive about which hole to hit, he runs like a 185-pound back. The Redskins want the bigger guy on a more consistent basis. It’s not as if Kelley is small – he’s 6-foot, 228 pounds. He wasn’t flashy – his longest carry was 16 yards, but 12 runs resulted in gains of at least four yards. Kelley had no negative carries.

The Redskins also just promoted Mack Brown off the practice squad. Gruden said last week that he and Kelley were in a close competition at the end of the summer, but they opted for the latter on the opening day roster. The Redskins say they can mix and match their backs depending on the situation. But they also know their most dangerous talent lies in the passing game.

“If Mack Brown continues to keep working in practice, I might try to get him some carries,” Gruden said. “We have four really good backs. It’s just a matter of you only have one ball. We have five, six, seven really good receivers and tight ends, and we just have to distribute the ball properly and try to keep everybody off-balance with our running game and passing game.”