ASHBURN — Three days after a game in which Antonio Gibson’s fumbling issues popped up again, the Washington Commanders running back looked to be in danger of taking up residence in coach Ron Rivera’s doghouse.
Not only did Gibson spend part of Tuesday’s practice working with the backups on the second and third units, but coaches also had the 24-year-old working on special teams — a rarity for starters.
And when Rivera was asked if the starting running back job was up for grabs, he seemed to pour a little gas on the fire.
“There’s always been a competition for the positions on this team,” Rivera said.
Gibson was benched for a drive Saturday after his fumble in the first quarter led to a Carolina Panthers score. He was back on the field in the second quarter — this time playing with the team’s backups rather than the starters.
Gibson’s six fumbles last season were the most for any non-quarterback. In April, the Commanders drafted former Alabama running back Brian Robinson Jr. in the third round — but Rivera had said the selection was made in part to help ease Gibson’s workload. Over the course of the offseason, Washington’s coaches have said that they plan on utilizing a committee of backs in 2022.
Until recently, Gibson’s job as the starter seemed relatively secure. The third-year back, after all, rushed more than 1,000 yards last season. But Robinson impressed coaches and teammates with a strong showing Saturday. Despite playing just 11 snaps, the rookie finished with 26 yards on six carries, caught another two passes for 15 yards and punched in a 1-yard touchdown. “Brian showed us why we drafted him,” Rivera said then.
On Tuesday, Gibson’s role shifted. While the running back sometimes logged first-team reps, he also spent time with the reserve units in two-minute drills. In those scenarios, which involve Washington putting 1 minute and 30 seconds on the clock, veteran J.D. McKissic played with the starters.
Later in practice, Gibson worked with the first team — but behind McKissic and Robinson. All three were sprinkled in as Washington’s offense drove the field.
In the special teams portion, Gibson worked as one of the blockers when Washington was working on punts. Rivera downplayed Gibson’s role when asked, adding that Robinson has also done special teams work in camp.
The latter, though, was expected. Gibson? In two seasons, the 2020 third-rounder hadn’t logged a special teams snap in a game.
“We can’t waste possessions and obviously if you fumble the ball, that’s a waste of a possession,” offensive coordinator Scott Turner said. “That’s a ball carrier’s first job, to protect the ball. We can’t have that. He knows that. I’m not saying anything to you guys that hasn’t already been said to Antonio. I read his comments. I know he said the same thing. It’s something that has to be fixed.”
• Matthew Paras can be reached at email@example.com.
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