Taking a look at the Washington Redskins position by position -- reviewing the 2015 season, and eyeing the future. On Friday: running backs.
What went right: The Redskins got off to a terrific start, having a 100-yard rusher in each of their first two games -- Morris, followed by Jones. At times Morris looked his old self, in games against New Orleans, Buffalo and Dallas. He did a better job of gaining yards after contact. Jones showed he could be a threat and run with energy; he has good size, and was a help in the screen game. Thompson was terrific as a pass protector and showed more patience as a receiver. Thomas helped late, both on the field and with his wisdom -- he shared some advice that helped Thompson, for example.
What went wrong: Morris did not break as many tackles or make as many defenders miss as he had in the past. He was never a player who snapped off a lot of long runs, but in his first three seasons he was tied with Marshawn Lynch for the NFL lead in carries for 10 or more yards. Morris had a career-low 14 such runs this season (compared to 55 as a rookie). Jones needed to learn how to be an NFL running back -- how to run, how to take care of his body, etc. He did a better job as the season unfolded. Jones started off running too upright, and eventually improved there, too. He’ll need to keep working on that to be a durable back. And his four fumbles led to ball-security questions. In general, the run game was way too inconsistent -- a function of blocking as well as the backs not creating enough.
Offseason decision: Do they re-sign Morris? It’s likely he’ll be elsewhere in 2016, as the Redskins want more production from their backs. Morris was everything the coaches hoped for in terms of approach, demeanor and attitude. But the Redskins want a back who can create more on their own, and they just drafted Jones last spring. Jones must improve in order to become the No. 1 back, but they’ll definitely add someone else who is capable.
Offseason decision, Part 2: Do they re-sign Thomas or Young? The hard part with Thomas -- and it’s the same scenario they’ll face with cornerback Will Blackmon -- is that they’d like to get younger with their backups. At 31, Thomas would not qualify. But if they can’t find anyone better who’s younger, he’s a good option (and they will still likely have Thompson). As for Young, the Redskins still need a fullback. Not many teams use one a whole lot, and his role here decreased. But this is where Young wants to be and they’ll still have a need for one, even if it’s for only 100 snaps per season (his special teams work is a big plus, too).
Telling stat: 1.45 yards after contact per carry by Morris, a career-low for the fourth-year back according to ESPN Stats and Information. His previous low was 1.92 as a rookie.
Stat that must improve: 3.28 yards per carry on first down. That ranked last in the NFL, and it eventually forced the Redskins to adopt a pass-to-set-up-the-run philosophy, the opposite of what they wanted to be. The better they are on this down, the more their play-action and bootleg game can lead to huge plays.
Look ahead: It’s hard to look too far ahead because this group is in flux and could look completely different in 2016. If Jones improves, he could be someone to watch, but regardless the Redskins will look to add someone. They’d like a dynamic back -- who wouldn’t? -- and someone who can make something out of nothing. In looking at the big runs around the league this past year, the Redskins saw how often they occurred because of an individual effort and not necessarily the blocking.