WASHINGTON — There are changes afoot in the Washington Redskins' backfield.
Running back Kelvin Bryant, who has gained 14 pounds in an off-season weightlifting program, said this week he would like to run the ball "a little bit more this year" than he did in his first season with the Redskins.
George Rogers, the team's top running back the last two seasons, agreed. "At certain times," Rogers said, he believes Bryant will replace him as the team's starting running back this season. Rogers said he won't mind playing a diminished role, but would like the team to run more pitchouts when he is playing so he can get outside faster.
"Kelvin should be carrying the ball more," Rogers said before an afternoon practice at minicamp. "It takes away from his game if he just goes in and catches a pass here and there. Plus, Kelvin is a good runner, more of a slashing-type runner. He can get outside, he's got good speed, he can do some things that I can't do, for sure. As far as being a power guy, I don't think he'll be a power guy, but, then again, sometimes you don't have to be a power guy."
Coach Joe Gibbs and his assistants have said that finding a way to work the oft-injured Bryant into the offense is one of their top priorities for the 1987 season. Gibbs reiterated that Thursday at Redskin Park.
"Last year we were hampered, we felt, because he was injured quite a bit, so, hopefully, if he stays healthy, he'll get to play a lot more," Gibbs said. "I just know he was nicked a lot, hurt a lot. That cuts down your playing time because you just can't stay in there."
Bryant missed six games with two stretched ligaments in his left knee last season.
"If (last year's) role (is the one) I've got to play, that's what I'll do, but I would like to run the ball a little bit more this year than I did last year," he said. "I learned the system last year. This year I feel comfortable that I know the offense pretty good. I feel that if I go out and work hard, like I did last year, I should do OK. "
When the United States Football League suspended operations last August, Bryant joined the Redskins, the team that held his rights in the National Football League. He missed most of the Redskins' training camp, but was gradually working his way into a major role in the offense when he injured his knee in the second week of the regular season. He returned for the last eight games of the regular season.
He ran the ball 69 times for 258 yards (a 3.7-yard average) in the 10 games he played and caught 43 passes for 449 yards (10.4 average). In the playoffs, he rushed 18 times for 88 yards (4.9 average) and caught 13 passes for 124 yards (9.5 average). Rogers carried the ball 303 times for 1,203 yards (4.0 average) in the regular season and 66 times for 202 yards (3.1 average) in the playoffs.
"This season, Kelvin is going to run the ball some and I'm going to run the ball some," Rogers said. "The important thing is, can Kelvin stay healthy? If he can stay healthy, that's OK. Kelvin's done some things--everybody's seen him play. Kelvin is no slouch. As for me, I know I can run, so I'm not going to be disappointed in my role."
Bryant has missed games due to injury every season but one in eight years of college and professional football. At North Carolina, he was hurt during three of his four seasons. In the USFL, he was injured all three of the seasons he played, but still was the league's No. 2 all-time leading rusher behind Herschel Walker.
Asked if he is fragile, Bryant said, "Some people are going to say what they want to. I've been hurt a few times, but I don't worry about getting injured . . . Sometimes you're going to get hurt."
Bryant, 26, said he weighs 207 pounds. He weighed 193 last season. Although he still doesn't look big, he does appear thicker in his upper body than he did before. "I hope working out can keep me injury-free this year," he said.
"If there's anybody who could have benefited the most in our off-season (in the weight room(, it would have been Kelvin," Gibbs said. "He is very linear. I don't know that he's really spent a lot of time in off-season training (in the past), so we made a big push there, and, hopefully, he'll show some real progress.
"I think he can afford to carry more weight, good weight," Gibbs added. "The big thing is to stay healthy and give him enough strength to hold up this season."
Rogers, 28, who replaced John Riggins as the Redskins' starting running back in the 1985 season, said he doesn't foresee sharing the backfield with Bryant in a two-back set, because neither is a good blocker. Gibbs has said he will switch to a two-back alignment only if one of his backs is a better blocker than runner.
"This is a different situation, but it's good," Rogers said. "You've got two backs who can play. It's going to help our team. It can't hurt us. Whether I'm in, or he's in, our running game should produce this year better than it did last year."