ASHBURN — Rob Kelley said he wasn’t upset over the Redskins’ decision to sign Adrian Peterson earlier this week, a move that might have signaled Washington was eyeing a different starter at the running back position.
Instead, Kelley was excited.
“Before you become a football player, you’re a fan of it, and I have the opportunity to play with Adrian Peterson,” Kelley said. “It feels surreal. A couple weeks ago at camp, coach [Randy] Jordan asked all the running backs, if you could start a franchise with any player, and I picked AP. That’s crazy.”
Who could blame him? Peterson’s arrival in the District has added an element of intrigue to the Redskins as they return Friday to face the Denver Broncos at FedEx Field.
Normally, the focus Friday would be almost entirely on the starters, since the third game is the closest the preseason gets to a “real” NFL game.
But now, Peterson’s performance — specifically, how he does with the first-team — is an interesting subplot.
Coach Jay Gruden said he wants to see Peterson “get a good lather going” and expects him to receive some touches in the first half, which would mean he would likely play with the starting offense.
“The big thing you try to see on the first seven, eight carries is getting out of the huddle, having the plays register in his mind, how quickly he can adapt to our audibles and all that goes into an offensive game plan,” Gruden said when asked how he’ll evaluate Peterson in limited playing time.
Gruden, who has said Kelley remains the starter, said Wednesday he had not yet determined how many series his starters will take against Denver. The Redskins will still be cautious in their approach with the players working their way back from injury. Tight end Jordan Reed and running back Chris Thompson, for instance, will not play.
The Redskins, though, are becoming healthier. The team had just five players who did not practice Wednesday, their fewest in weeks.
Washington has used this week to simulate practice as if they were actually preparing for the regular season. Quarterback Alex Smith said the Redskins were trying to “iron out some kinks” to be ready for a variety of situations
Smith will also look to build upon his one-series drive from his preseason debut last week, which resulted in three points. The 34-year-old went 4 of 6 for 48 yards. He’ll likely see extended playing time against the Broncos.
For Peterson, Friday’s game will be about translating the explosiveness he demonstrated in his initial workout with Washington against live competition. Peterson, a former MVP, said he knows he can still play because he has bested younger athletes in workouts.
But that’s a different scenario than on the field — where the 33-year-old averaged just 3.4 yards per carry last season.
“I’m his biggest fan, secretly rooting him on,” cornerback Josh Norman said. “And openly. It’s just one of those things to see him touch the rock. I’m going to be super excited.”
Elsewhere, Norman and the defense will be focused on their own task of preparing for the regular season. Safety D.J. Swearinger said he wants “all the work he can get,” so the Redskins are ready for Week 1.
Linebacker Mason Foster added that because the Redskins have such an early bye (Week 4), it’s important to be in top physical shape.
“It’s been a work in progress from April until now,” Foster said. “We’ve been pushing each other this whole offseason. And now it’s continuing to build. You can’t get complacent and think that you’ve got it. …
“You don’t want to peak too early, but at the same time, you just want to keep getting better and keep pushing yourself to that limit and see where you can go with it.”
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