Antonio Gibson’s expected new role confirms Brian Robinson is the Commanders’ RB1
By Jerry Trotta
The moment Antonio Gibson fumbled on his second carry against the Panthers in Week 1 of preseason, the Washington Commanders had a running back controversy on their hands. That notion was accentuated after rookie Brian Robinson stepped in and showed poise and power between the tackles.
Since then, Robinson has been treated like the lead back.
Gibson, on the other hand, was demoted to the second-team offense and began practicing with special teams on a regular basis. He was initially used as a slot blocker on punt returns before he was asked to return kicks. The development galvanized fans and it continued doing so against Kansas City when Gibson returned the opening kickoff and Robinson took the first carry of the game with the starters.
Ron Rivera has refused to directly appoint Robinson as RB1, but the head coach’s latest comments might’ve put the (lopsided) conversation to bed. Per Rivera, Gibson has a real chance of being the Commanders’ starting kick returner.
Ron Rivera appointing Antonio Gibson as the starting kick returner means Brian Robinson is the Commanders’ RB1
"“I think we still need to see some more stuff, but I think he is (our top kick returner),” Rivera said Thursday. “I do. I think he’s done a nice job. When you watch it on tape, you see him circling the ball, getting under it, making a good catch. It’s something he did well in college, and we’re pretty excited having him do it.”"
From the starting running back to the starting kick returner just like that. That’ll happen when you fumble on your second preseason carry after leading all RBs in fumbles with six (four lost) last season and Washington now has a viable backup in Robinson who knows how to manufacture positive yards in the trenches.
Worth noting, too, that Robinson isn’t your typical rookie. He was at Alabama for five seasons and turned 23 before the draft. Gibson, meanwhile celebrated his 24th birthday in June and is approaching his third season with the Commanders.
While this is technically a demotion for Gibson — assuming Rivera’s comments come to fruition once Week 1 rolls around — returning kicks should allow Gibson to accentuate his skillset given he’s a wrecking ball in open space.
Gibson averaged an impressive 28 yards on 23 kick returns at Memphis in 2019 and Rivera was openly frustrated with Washington’s return game against Carolina as multiple returns failed to make it beyond the 20-yard line.
Gibson’s track record and ability to make would-be tacklers miss in open space suggests he’s the Commanders’ best option at kick returner.
Don’t expect the former Tiger to be completely abandoned in the running game, however. While Robinson seemingly has the starting job under wraps, he’s still unproven in the NFL and JD McKissic is exclusively a third-down back.
Who knows? With a lessened workload as a rusher, Gibson could be utilized more as a pass-catcher; another area he thrived in at Memphis.
There’s still a pathway for Gibson to become a vital part of the offense, but Rivera’s comments strongly suggest he’ll star the year helping out the return game, which has been uninspiring throughout camp and the preseason.