The battle appeared to be over, until Mack Brown sprinted 60 yards downfield, breaking tackles by some defenders and making others whiff. It was part of a 149-yard night, one that could earn him a roster spot with the Washington Redskins.
It might have done so had Rob Kelley not continued his impressive preseason. But Kelley, who entered ahead of Brown (how much so we’ll soon find out), rushed for 99 yards on 16 carries in Wednesday's finale.
More than that, he continued to show skills that translate to whatever competition he’s facing. I know that not everyone there was sold on him entering the preseason, but it’s hard not to be now. I also know that several days ago, there was no doubt in anyone’s minds there that Matt Jones is, and would be, the starter.
If nothing else, maybe it slows the Redskins' need to add another back (though I was told they have remained at least somewhat in contact with unsigned Pierre Thomas. Just in case). Does one game featuring all backups change that desire? That much I don’t know. We'll find out by 4 p.m. ET Saturday, when rosters must be trimmed to 53.
But Kelley has impressed me since the Atlanta game. A lot of it stems from his quick feet and vision, two terrific traits in a running back. He’s done an excellent job pressing the hole, too. He received good blocking versus the Falcons, but on his long run he pressed the hole, forcing the linebacker over and allowing the line to seal the cutback lane. The ability to press and cut back was noticeable with Kelley in each game; so, too, was his penchant for taking what could be a two-yard loss and turning it into a positive gain because of that vision.
Kelley showed he could pick up the blitz; his technique sometimes needed work, but the want-to was always there and he almost always stopped or slowed his man. The want-to is a must or else technique won’t matter.
The question is, did Brown do enough to win a spot? In some cases, what Brown needed most was a longer look and that’s what he finally received. In the preseason opener, though Kelley had bigger numbers, what jumped out to me was how Brown finished runs. He was the only back that night who consistently fell forward upon first contact. He performed well in pass protection for the most part as well.
Both backs showed excellent footwork through the hole Wednesday and Brown did what no one else has done here in a while: run a long way for a touchdown. In the regular season, the Redskins haven’t had a back score on a run of 60 yards or more since Clinton Portis in 2008. There’s a big difference between doing it in the first half of the final preseason game and doing it in the regular season. It can be a huge difference.
There’s no guarantee the Redskins will keep four backs. It all depends how many tight ends or offensive linemen they want to keep. Depending on the day or person you talk to, those numbers change: Some days it’s three tight ends and other days it’s four; one day it’s nine offensive linemen and the next it might be eight. That’s all normal. They could keep fullback Joe Kerridge, but most likely will try to sneak him onto the practice squad.
Regardless, both Kelley and Brown did what they were supposed to do. They took advantage of their opportunity and might have won a roster spot, here or elsewhere.