Robert Kelley still embraces the “Fat Rob” nickname despite a trimmer physique entering his second season with the Redskins. Soon we’ll see if the running back can hold onto his starting job.
Based on many depth chart projections following the NFL Draft in April, Kelley’s grip won’t be tight enough. Washington selected Oklahoma’s Samaje Perine in the fourth round. The NCAA single-game rushing record holder is the odds-on favorite to take over the starting job.
Who says? They said. Is Redskins coach Jay Gruden among the “they?” No, no he is not. For now, that’s all that matters. Well, that and Kelley putting himself in the best position possible.
The 24-year-old took a mature approach to his diet during the off-season. Favorite snacks like potato chips and granola bars, not to mention processed foods and sugar, were replaced with watermelon, bananas and cut-up apples. His body fat, around 18 percent at points last season, is now at 13 percent, Kelley said. “Fat Rob” is growing up, not out.
"Got to if you want to keep this job," Kelley said.
Simply battling for the starting job is a reminder how much has changed in one year.
“I joked around [Wednesday] and said, ‘Last year at this time you were the ninth-string running back for God’s sakes,’ and now he’s the guy,” Gruden said. “So, it’s exciting to see how far he’s come in a short period of time”
The New Orleans native took over the starting job from Matt Jones in Week 8 and ended the season with a team-high 704 rushing yards. In that role, the start was better than the finish.
Kelley rushed for 321 yards in his first three starts, averaging 4.79 yards per carry average. Over the final six games, he rushed for only 280 yards and just 3.3 yards per rush.
What impressed observers initially was Kelley’s vision and ability to avoid would-be tacklers in the backfield. The 228-pounder often turned a potential loss into a modest gain. That helpful style perhaps played a role in the statistical dip.
"Sometimes I found myself not trusting my linemen and going off-schedule," Kelley said. "This year it'll be in my best interest to trust my line. You can go back and see a lot of runs where I cut up too early and the hole is outside. So just maturing as a runner and believing those certain cutback lanes will be there for me."
Gruden’s continued belief in Kelley remains despite the late-season struggles and the arrival of the powerful Perine. Yet Kelley isn’t blind to the situation.
"It's hard not to say you don't feel some type [of pressure] when they bring another back in," Kelley said. "But it's the [NFL], someone comes in every year to try and take your job. Coach told me it’s my job to lose. If Samaje comes in here and does what he has to do, it's not his fault if he's playing better. I have to play better than him, so I don't feel no type of way. It's all on me."
Diet and fitness aren’t the only changes. Kelley, a viable receiving threat at Tulane, struggled in the passing game as a rookie. He worked on catching passes during the off-season, one he spent almost exclusively in Ashburn, but also remaining calm when the ball is headed his way.
When it comes to the running back battle, calm and mature describes Kelley’s approach. Perine will indeed be a factor in the offense. If the outsiders want to look past Kelley and back another runner, rock on. Sounds like the head coach is rolling with “Fat Rob.” When recalling just how far Kelley rose in the ranks last season, bet against a steady diet of carries at your own risk.