ASHBURN, Va. — Chris Thompson remembers in vivid detail the passes he dropped, the routes he didn’t run well enough and the sacks he allowed.
So in his mind it was perfectly natural that after running for a 61-yard touchdown in Los Angeles , all he thought about on the plane ride home, in the film room and on the practice field was a pass he dropped. All the Washington Redskins back wanted to do was get back on the field and run that same route again — and catch the ball this time.
The 26-year-old third-down back sees work in all situations: running the ball, catching it out of the backfield and protecting the quarterback and has emerged as a not-so-secret weapon that the Redskins count on to do a bit of everything.
“A lot of things we do, we wouldn’t be able to do without him,” left tackle Trent Williams said Wednesday. “He’s one of the biggest mismatches we have when it comes to those third downs and to those obvious pass downs. He’s an outstanding talent.”
Thompson has three of Washington’s four offensive touchdowns this season, two rushing and one receiving, and he leads the team with 196 all-purpose yards. He has played so well that Hall of Fame running back John Riggins said in a radio appearance that Thompson should be the Redskins’ No. 1 ball carrier.
As much as coach Jay Gruden likes going to Thompson, who recently signed a two-year contract extension, he doesn’t want to put a 5-foot-8, 191-pound back in that spot.
“He’s not a guy that I personally want to give him 30 carries a game,” Gruden said. “He’s a very valuable guy in the role that he’s in: third down and he’s also one of our kick-returners and he does a lot of get-back-on-track calls on second down and long and there’s some first-down plays that he’s in. Yes, it’s important for us to keep him healthy.”
Thompson broke two vertebrae and tore the ACL in his left knee at Florida State and was bothered by shoulder injuries after the Redskins took him in the fifth round in 2013. Last season was the first he played all 16 games.
In addition to learning how to handle his body, Thompson figured out how to avoid that kind of hits he took earlier in his career.
“Now I feel like I see things a lot better, and things are not moving as fast,” Thompson said. “It’s a little bit of having that experience and just having instinct.”
Thompson is able to find holes in defenses, something the Redskins will be counting on Sunday night against the Oakland Raiders with tight end Jordan Reed’s status in doubt because of injury.
“You can hand it to him, you can toss it to him, you could throw him the football out of the backfield,” Oakland coach Jack Del Rio said. “He’s been good.”
Not only has Thompson been a big part of the Redskins’ third-ranked rushing offense, but quarterback Kirk Cousins raves about him as a teammate and his versatility.
“It’s a thrill to play with him,” Cousins said. “I’ve told him that. I’ve said: ‘You’re the kind of guy you want in the huddle in a tense moment, in an away stadium,’ just because you feel like he’s a guy who has composure about him and the moment’s not too big for him.”
In a backfield rotation with Robert Kelley and rookie Samaje Perine, Thompson seems to relish his role as a jack of all trades and master of most. His self-professed “little-man syndrome” makes him want to play bigger than his size and prove he belongs in the NFL.
“I can handle as much as they give me,” Thompson said. “I have an idea or a feeling on what my workload will be, which is usually between 10-15 (carries), and for me I’m just trying to make the best of that.”
While doing his best, Thompson always thinks about his worst. As much as Kelley tells him to let go of mistakes, Thompson believes he’s better for dwelling on what went wrong.
“When I mess something up, it will stay with me for years and I will never forget about it,” Thompson said. “It’s something that as a human you have to let it go and you have to move on, but for me that motivates me to be better the next play and moving forward.”
NOTES: After Reed didn’t practice because of a rib/chest injury, Gruden said, “The plan is we’ve got to get him healthy and the concern is he’s not healthy right now.” … Kelley (rib), CB Josh Norman (shoulder), RT Morgan Moses (ankle/shoulder), LB Mason Foster (shoulder), S Montae Nicholson (shoulder) and S Deshazor Everett (knee) were all limited in practice.