The Redskins are more explosive when running back Chris Thompson is in the lineup.
RICHMOND, Va. — Washington Redskins tight end Jordan Reed put a move on Landon Collins, causing the safety to go one way while Reed went another. Collins hasn’t been Reed’s only victim so far in training camp, either.
Then there was running back Chris Thompson zipping about like he did once upon a time, taking one handoff in the red zone, patiently waiting for a linebacker to commit and then bursting through the hole.
It’s what the Redskins have needed — and hoped — to see. Neither player could do that a year ago at this time. Neither felt right for most of last season. And the Redskins’ offense suffered.
The Redskins have their issues offensively. They don’t know their starting quarterback yet, and Pro Bowl left tackle Trent Williams is holding out. But if Thompson and Reed can do what they have done in the past — when healthy — it would provide a huge boost. They’re that important to the offense.
There are always caveats when discussing both players because of their injury histories. That’s why many statements end with “right now” or “if they stay healthy” or “knock on wood.” Last year, both were limited in camp, with Reed coming off toe surgery and Thompson coming off a broken leg and subsequent surgery.
“We’re a different team with those two guys in the game,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. “That’s just the way it is.”
Thompson said, “When we’re healthy, it opens up our playbook, makes things easier for Jay and tougher on the defense. You’ve got to pick your poison, especially when Jordan’s on the field. You have to double him, and if you don’t, he will win on his routes. [If defenses do] it leaves someone else open.”
The Redskins’ passing game centers on Reed, with Thompson a valuable member as well. In 2015, Reed caught 87 passes for 952 yards and 11 touchdowns in 14 games. In the following two seasons, he missed 14 games.
He dealt with the toe issue in the 2016 season and opened the ’17 season on the physically unable to perform list because of inflammation in the big toe on his right foot. He needed a stem-cell shot, but that didn’t help. Orthotics didn’t help. The pain lingered throughout the season, affecting his ability to cut, and he needed surgery on both big toes after the season. The result: Reed couldn’t even start running until late July last year.
While he was productive — 54 catches in 13 games — he did not have the explosion he usually does. Although he did not participate in OTAs this spring, Reed was able to train in an offseason rather than rehab for the first time in three years.
“I understand the questions. I just got to answer them with my performance,” Reed said. “Actions speak louder than words.”
He will allow this after just a few days of practice: “My feet are definitely getting stronger, way stronger than last year,” he said. “I feel more explosive, and I feel a lot better.”
So does Thompson. Two years ago, he became the Redskins’ home run hitter, catching 39 passes for 510 yards and rushing 64 times for 294 yards in 10 games. He scored a combined six touchdowns. Thompson took short passes and turned them into long gains, with nine receptions of 20-plus yards and two for more than 49. Last season, of his 41 receptions in 10 games, only one went for more than 20 yards.
“I feel totally different than last year,” Thompson said. “I played through pain [all] of last year. There was not one game where I felt like myself. The first game we had a pretty good showing in the backfield. After that, I was pretty terrible, and I’ll be the first to admit that. I really didn’t feel good at all last year. There were some games even in pregame I didn’t think I’d make it through. I almost told my coaches against the Saints last year that I couldn’t play because I was in so much pain.”
Instead, he played in that Monday night game in October, injured his ribs late in a 43-19 loss and missed six of the next seven weeks. But unlike in 2018, Thompson was able to participate in offseason work. That matters.
“I trust in the ankle a lot more now,” said Thompson, who is in the final year of his contract. “I don’t worry about it. I still have a couple days here and there where it gets sore, of course. For the most part, I feel good. I’m able to get out of my breaks on my right side as good as I can on my left side. … The cuts that I’m making, I wasn’t confident enough to make last year.”
Now it’s up to Thompson and Reed to stay relatively healthy and produce, starting in September. Gruden said with those two in the game, he can call different plays and find more ways to attack a defense. He called Reed a “unique player” and calls Thompson’s role “critical” to an offense.
“They’re two great players to have,” Gruden said. “We’ve got to keep them healthy.”