ASHBURN — On the night the Redskins drafted running back Samaje Perine in the fourth round, Jay Gruden had this to say about the player who out bench-pressed every other player at his position (and most offensive linemen) at the NFL Scouting Combine:
“He’s a hard guy to get down, and if you do get him down, you’re going to get up holding your shoulder or something because he’s going to hit you,” Gruden said.
Fast-forward to last Saturday afternoon, at rookie minicamp. Perine and linebacker Josh Harvey-Clemons, a seventh-round pick, battled each other in a pass-catching drill. They heard ‘go’ and Perine started to run, Harvey-Clemons came down to meet him and Perine juked Harvey-Clemons to the point that he stumbled, as Perine sped past.
Perine makes his strength and downhill running ability immediately obvious, but he can turn a corner remarkably well for someone 5-foot-11 and 234 pounds. If he can prove himself as an asset in the passing game, Perine could challenge Rob Kelley for the top running back job in the fall.
“You see him out there running around – were you impressed?” Gruden asked after practice Saturday. “Yeah, so was I. I like guys who come in here and love football and he does. He’s a very smart guy. You can tell that he’s going to be a very hard worker and, of course, he runs hard.
“You can’t see that in shorts, obviously, but you could see that his pad level is always down, he’s got good vision, he’s got good feet in the hole and he caught the ball well.”
Coaches are always eager to get their players in pads, but Gruden and Co. aren’t questioning Perine’s ability to give and take hits. In T-shirts or shells, Perine can still work on his pass-catching skills, which went underutilized when he was in college at Oklahoma.
On the practice play where Perine discarded Harvey-Clemons, the ball wound up badly overthrown. Perine put himself in great position, but no one watching got to see his hands. There is plenty of time for that, of course, but the Redskins will want to know what Perine can contribute on third downs.
“I’m getting better at it,” Perine said. “It’s something that I’ve always knew how to do but I just wasn’t used much for it, so it’s a little rusty.”
Running backs at Oklahoma are asked to do a lot but, because Joe Mixon was also on the roster, Perine caught only 10 passes for 106 yards last season as a junior. Mixon was used far more in the passing game, and was the team’s second-leading receiver.
Even if Perine has all the ability and traits necessary, his mental game will likely slow him initially. Perine has been praised as a fast learner and hard worker but, particularly in pass protection, he’ll need time to learn NFL defenses and how to beat them.
“College you could run up to the other guy and the play’s off, but here plays can take a lot longer to develop so you have to stay on that guy longer. Getting a wide base, learning where to put my hands and all that stuff is going to help out in the long run,” Perine said.
Perine will eventually develop an understanding of where the pressure is coming from. He said he’s just started going over all the different defensive fronts in meetings with his new coaches.
“We’ve hit on it slightly, but there’s a lot of smoke and mirrors in the NFL, so you have to be ready for that, have to be ready for guys coming in all directions,” Perine said. “You just have to have your head on a swivel and everything isn’t going to be as basic and up front as it was in college.
“Not saying that college football is basic, but compared to the NFL and what their defenses throw at you, it looks pretty basic. It was a big change, but I’ll be ready for it.”
If he is, Perine could become a fixture of the Redskins’ running game very quickly.
• Nora Princiotti can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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