Over two months ago, running back Robert Kelley was another random undrafted free agent added to fill out the Washington Redskins' 90-man training camp roster. The kind of player who casual fans won't bother learning about because, realistically, they won't be around when the games turn real.
At the moment, the Tulane product is making all take notice. There's a reason why, one that goes beyond injuries elsewhere at his position or his effective running.
"I thought he did a really good job running the football and also in pass protection," quarterback Kirk Cousins said after Friday's preseason game, "which is a very difficult part of playing the running back position."
Cousins and the other starters were expected to play plenty in what was likely their final preseason action. Kelley joined them most of the time in part because other RBs were out. But even when the Redskins have a crowded backfield, that pass blocking prowess can keep him on the field.
Matt Jones and Chris Thompson missed the Bills game due to injury, which allowed Kelley to rush for 51 yards on 12 opportunities. Despite the 4.25-yard average on the ground, Kelley made his biggest impression on the coaching staff and his peers during non-rushing plays.
"(Robert) ran hard. I thought he ran hard," head coach Jay Gruden said. "Protected the football, had a couple of good blitz pickups that I saw. I’ll have to make sure I look at the film and see how he did in protection overall. But for the most part, I’m happy with the way he played."
Jones will probably take on the bulk of Washington's carries, but Kelley can earn a roster spot and playing time if he continues to excel in pass protection as he did against Buffalo.
Just as important as the thoughts of the team's head coach is the perspective of the franchise quarterback Kelley is protecting.
Cousins explained that Kelley might be in a position similar to where he was at this time last year, when people may not have believed in him as the team's on-field leader. Belief is something Kelley could use right now, according to Cousins.
"I think when you’re a rookie and undrafted and you’re in that position, what you need is belief," the quarterback said. "You need people around you who believe in you and have confidence in you, because he does have the talent and he can run the football well. ... You just have to continue encouraging him, and I think he showed a lot of confidence tonight when he got going and he’s a talented football player."
Kelley agreed with Cousins on his own confidence level and thinks he has a good chance to make Washington's final 53-man roster.
"I feel real confident about how I played," Kelley said. "I feel confident that I gave myself a better opportunity to make the roster."
Concluding in a humble manner, Kelley deflected praise for his pass protection skills by giving the glory to his quarterback.
"I thought I did a good job, especially out there with Kirk," he said. "There's not too much thinking. He's pointing everything out there too you. He's kind of giving you answers to the test."
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