Rivera hopes to use Gibson, Robinson as ‘one-two punch' in backfield


When a running back at the best college program in the country becomes the school’s first RB to rush for 200 yards in a bowl game, that gets NFL teams' attention.

That’s exactly what Brian Robinson Jr. did at Alabama, prompting the Washington Commanders to select the Crimson Tide alum in the third round last week 

Now, Robinson joins a Commanders’ RB core comprised of himself, Antonio Gibson, J.D. McKissic and Jaret Patterson. While OTAs (organized team activies) are still a few weeks away, Commanders head coach Ron Rivera already has ideas on how he’d like to configure his running back depth chart.

In a sitdown interview with Commanders senior vice president of media and content Julie Donaldson, Rivera complimented Robinson’s ball security, yards after contact, power and size, before delving into how he’ll be utilized as a Commander.

“He’s going to add very nicely to what we have with Antonio Gibson in terms of a one-two punch,” Rivera said. “A lot of success that I’ve been around, a lot of success that I’ve had as a head coach was a lot to do with having a quality one-two punch.”

Gibson topped 1,000 rushing yards last year for the Burgundy & Gold, becoming the first player to eclipse that mark since Adrian Peterson in 2018. That’s especially impressive considering his yards-per-attempt went down from 4.7 in 2020 to 4.0 last season. Though he had ball security issues, his durability was commendable.

Now, though, the consistent and powerful Robinson enters the mix and Rivera wants to give him a decent share of touches. Rivera is no stranger to utilizing a backfield-by-committee approach, either.

“We had Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams in Carolina my first four seasons, and we were very successful with that,” Rivera said. “So we feel really good about who this combination can be for us going forward.”

From 2011-14, Stewart and Williams did indeed terrorize the NFC South in Rivera’s backfield. They each rushed for over 2,000 yards and combined for 23 rushing TDs during that span. Rivera might just try to recreate that magic in Washington this year.

But that begs the question, what about J.D. McKissic? The veteran rusher provided stability behind Gibson last season and Gibson even said “We’re a 1-2 punch combo” last month.

Robinson’s arrival won’t push McKissic out, says Rivera, but could even take pressure of both Gibson and McKissic in terms of usage duties.

“The other thing too, is that it takes some of the pressure off of J.D.,” Rivera said. “Last year was a big loss when we lost J.D. and so what we have to do is we’ve gotta be able to replace some of those snaps as well.”

Washington enters 2022 with a talented, but crowded, running back room. Training camp and the preseason might sort out the depth chart and workload shakes out. What’s for sure is that Gibson, Robinson, McKissic and Patterson each offer different and useful talents behind quarterback Carson Wentz. 

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