The Way We Hear It: Why RB Rob Kelley will be the starter in Washington for now

August 4, 2017 GMT

There was speculation that Washington drafting fourth-round running back Samaje Perine in April could lead to an unseating at the position, or at least a shift in power. But based on what a team source told Pro Football Weekly, Rob Kelley appears to be fairly locked in as the team’s starting running back.

Kelley opened some eyes in an unexpectedly good rookie season in which he carried the ball 168 times — more than in his final two seasons combined at Tulane — for 704 yards and six touchdowns. The majority of those yards (601) came in a nine-game stretch that started with the tie against the Bengals in London when the Washington coaching staff started to show more confidence in Kelley.

Now Kelley is rewarding them with his own improved confidence. Prior to coach Jay Gruden citing Kelley’s noticeably better self-confidence during Thursday’s session with the media, the team source had noted to us that Kelley no longer was “not trying to make mistakes … now he’s just playing and running more freely and decisively. He’s more confident in what he’s doing. He’s in better shape and he’s looking good so far.”

Kelley’s rookie season ended with a meniscus injury that cost him a little explosiveness the final few games; his longest run in the final six contests was 22 yards. But after having it cleaned up surgically this offseason, Kelley’s knee is in good shape and he even has trimmed off a few unnecessary pounds that has helped his quickness a bit.

The nickname “Fat Rob” was fun for fans, but Kelley — listed on the roster at 6-0, 233 pounds — has looked leaner. He might be down into the low 220s by the time the season starts.

There has been nothing wrong with Perine’s start to training camp, mind you. He has looked the part of an NFL running back and should be firmly in the team’s plans. It’s just that Kelley appears to be the first choice out of the chute, and Gruden likely will give Perine a chance to establish himself down the road, keeping him in a limited role for now.

Expect Kelley to start for now, backed by Perine, with Chris Thompson reprising the third-down role he has carved out. That’s a solid top three at a position that appeared a bit in flux before camp started.

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