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Washington football: Antonio Gibson is about to be the man in the backfield

Washington football: Antonio Gibson is about to be the man in the backfield

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After an offseason of hype surrounding Adrian Peterson and Derrius Guice, neither will be the starting running back in Washington.

Instead, it will likely be a rookie with a “secret” plan for his use.

Antonio Gibson was a wide receiver at Memphis but was drafted by Washington coach Ron Rivera with an eye toward turning him into the next Christian McCaffrey, a star for Rivera in Carolina who was adept at both running the ball and catching passes.

Still, Friday’s decision to release Peterson was shocking — the future Hall of Famer had been the team’s No. 1 back through the entire training camp, and appears to still be running full speed even late in his career.

Peterson was released Friday, a day before the official cut day, a courtesy often given to veteran players to help them land on another team. It was reported on Sunday that Peterson planned to sign with the Detroit Lions.

“I woke up at about 4:30 this morning, and my first thought was, what do I do?” Rivera said. “How do I talk to Adrian Peterson? He will go down as one of the best backs to play in this league. He’ll be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. It was difficult. It’s something that I struggled with to continue to think I made the right decision.”

Rivera said the decision was made to give more playing time to his younger backs, and see what they have to offer as he evaluates each position in his first season as coach.

“One of the things we have to find out is where we are with those guys,” Rivera said. “That’s what this allows us to do, is play these young players and put them in a position where they’ll be on the field.”

He noted that Peterson would have needed a different style of offense, one built around traditional runs, but emphasized that the decision wasn’t about Peterson’s skill set — “The guy’s got football left in him. I will tell you that.”

Peterson told ESPN he appreciated his time under Rivera and is hopeful to be signed elsewhere for the upcoming season.

In Washington, Gibson will now work alongside Bryce Love, the former Heisman runner-up from Stanford who is recovering from a knee injury and may not be ready to go in Week 1 against Philadelphia. Coaches think Love will be able to make a full recovery and contribute in the same ways Gibson can — a versatile back who can also catch passes.

Washington also has veterans Peyton Barber and J.D. McKissic, who were picked up by Rivera this offseason.

Combined with the release of Guice following charges of domestic abuse, it is a near-complete overhaul of the room since Rivera’s arrival.

Gibson is the most intriguing of the bunch, given the variety of ways they can use him.

“We have a plan for him,” Rivera said last week. “I know we haven’t showed you guys the whole plan, and that’s a part of the secret we’re trying to keep going into the regular season. But, Antonio’s a very versatile young man, a solid football player.

“We’ve put a lot on his plate, we really have, and he’s handled it very well. We’ll continue to do that. We’ll continue to do things that we’re going to try to put him in the best position to help us, try to put him in a position to have success as a football player. There’s a lot that we can do with a young man like him.”

Peterson wasn’t credible as a receiving threat, and the team made the decision to move forward with its new offense, even though it means leaving behind one of the most talented rushers in league history.

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