- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 26, 2018

ASHBURN — Rob Kelley lay on the ground briefly after taking a hit during a kickoff in the Redskins’ 29-17 preseason loss Friday to the Denver Broncos, before popping back up and grabbing his neck.

“I’m good,” the 25-year-old running back said after the game. “I was just trying to match the other person’s intensity. He had a little more aggression than I did, I guess.”

Just giving his all on every play, even on special teams says Kelley — especially since the Redskins signed Adrian Peterson last week.

Kelley said he’s had a “strange feeling” of needing to impress Peterson, one of the most accomplished runners in NFL history, since the veteran joined the team.

With Peterson’s arrival, Kelley is in a delicate position — juggling his admiration for the former league MVP while also trying to hold on to the starting job in the backfield behind quarterback Alex Smith.

A week ago, coach Jay Gruden said the Redskins weren’t looking for a starter when they brought in Peterson for a workout. But on Friday, it was Peterson — not Kelley — with the starters.

“I looked at it weird a little bit, but at the end of the day, it’s Adrian Peterson,” Kelley said. “I mean … what do you expect? He still has it. You can see it.”

The Redskins aren’t saying if Peterson, who had 11 carries for 56 yards against Denver, is the starter moving forward. Gruden said Sunday he wanted to see how Peterson ran behind the first-team offensive line.

If Kelley has lost his starting role, that would be the latest swing in an eventful offseason for the running back.

Kelley, who signaled his hopes for a fresh start this season by cutting off his trademark dreadlocks, entered the offseason knowing he would have to fight for a roster spot after the Redskins drafted Derrius Guice. But Kelley had a strong training camp in Richmond, and at one point, Gruden seemed to indicate he was a lock to make the 53-man roster. He took over as the starter, too, after Guice went down with a season-ending torn ACL.

Kelley, though, hasn’t wowed in the preseason. Peterson looked more explosive in one game than Kelley did in three. Through three preseason games, Kelley has run for just 42 yards on 19 carries — an underwhelming 2.2 yards per attempt.

Kelley now may be in danger of not making the team.

The Redskins have Samaje Perine (ankle) returning soon and Gruden has said it’s important to keep someone on the roster who can back up Chris Thompson as the team’s third-down back — which would indicate a spot for Kapri Bibbs or the injured Byron Marshall.

Kelley’s spot could come down to numbers and how many backs the Redskins plan to keep.

“We are still evaluating that group every day,” Gruden said. “Samaje got some work in today a little bit, and Kapri has done a nice job, Byron has been hurt a little bit, but we’ll get a good look at all these guys.”

Kelley, who averaged just 3.1 yards per carry in seven games last season for 194 yards, said he wasn’t worried about the competition with Peterson.

“Every day I come in, I’m going to work,” Kelley said. “And the best person is going to play. That’s how it roll. But if it does work in his favor, at the end of the day, I have to take something from the situation.”

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