Antonio Gibson eager to 'shake back' after uneven preseason

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Antonio Gibson eager to 'shake back' after uneven preseason originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

ASHBURN, Va. -- The first two seasons of Antonio Gibson's NFL career have been largely productive. The 2020 third-round back has turned in consecutive 1,000-plus scrimmage yard seasons and even topped the 1,000-yard mark on the ground last fall.

But during Gibson's sophomore season, the former Memphis standout had trouble holding onto the football. Gibson coughed up the ball six times in 2021, which led all non-quarterbacks. Then, in Washington's first preseason game this August, Gibson put the ball on the turf once more.

In the couple of weeks following, Gibson's role began to change. Rookie Brian Robinson Jr. assumed lead back duties, with Gibson being used a lot more in space. The switch resulted in initial success, too, as Robinson thrived as a rusher while Gibson was able to use his dynamic skill set as both a pass-catcher and returner.

Things in the NFL change quickly, though. And with Robinson now sidelined for the first four games after being shot twice in an attempted carjacking, Gibson's role figures to change once again, perhaps moving back towards how Washington used him his first two seasons.

"I trust him," head coach Ron Rivera said on Wednesday. "We're going to give him the football. I have no issue with that."

Gibson, who hadn't spoken with the media since before the preseason opener, told local reporters Wednesday he's willing to take on whatever role helps the Commanders win the most games.

"I'm just doing whatever I can to help the team," Gibson said. "Wherever they put me, I'm going to do my job to the best."

Following Gibson's fumble in the preseason opener versus Carolina, the running back noticeably was upset. Left tackle Charles Leno and quarterback Carson Wentz made it a point to talk with the running back on the sideline and offer words of encouragement, but overall it was obvious fumbling the football was weighing on him.

On Wednesday, Gibson admitted he "responded bad" after his fumble against Carolina by letting his emotions get the best of him.

"You can't show that. It's always [onto] the next play and I didn't do that, honestly," Gibson said. "I threw a little fit with myself, beating up on myself. You can't allow that. You have to move on to the next play. ... It happens. Nobody's perfect. Just got to shake back and keep playing."

Part of Gibson's role switch included moving him back to his roots. At Memphis, Gibson was a standout kick returner -- as a senior, he averaged 28.0 yards per return, including a 97-yard touchdown versus SMU. But after being elevated to Washington's starting running back ahead of his rookie season, Gibson didn't return a single kick over the first two years of his career.

"I thought I was coming in [as a rookie] to help [at returner] but it just never happened," Gibson said. "They wanted to rock with me at running back and I was getting a lot of reps, so it's kind of tough to do both. ... It kind of just faded off."

But with the emergence of Robinson during the preseason, the Commanders felt comfortable enough to put Gibson back there in an attempt to fill a large void following the departure of DeAndre Carter. With Robinson temporarily out, Gibson likely won't return kicks to begin the year -- he was listed as the No. 2 returner on the depth chart -- but hopes he'll get that opportunity later in the year.

"Brian came in running the ball [well] and they were like 'we can put you back there,'" Gibson said. "That's where we were headed before things happened. Hopefully, I'll still get that chance. I definitely want to do that."

As a returner, Gibson feels he can add "explosiveness" to that position, something the Commanders lacked throughout the preseason. "Hopefully I get back there this year and return some kicks and show y'all what I can do back there in the league. That would be exciting right there," he added.

For now, though, Washington needs Gibson at running back. And he feels he has plenty to still prove at that position, too.

"I still feel like I'm one of the best running backs in the league and I've got something to prove," Gibson said. "So I'm going to keep playing, keep doing me and get back to having fun."