Ron Rivera Says Antonio Gibson Will Be Commanders' Top Kick Returner This Season

Paul KasabianFeatured Columnist IIAugust 25, 2022

Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

Washington Commanders head coach Ron Rivera told reporters that he thinks running back Antonio Gibson will be the team's top kick returner this season.

ESPN's John Keim relayed the remarks:

John Keim @john_keim

Ron Rivera, when asked if Antonio Gibson is their starting KR entering the season: “I think you still need to see some more stuff, but you know, I think he is. I do. I think he's done a nice job.”<br><br>They love him in space; it's another way to put him in that situation

Gibson, who is entering his third NFL season, amassed 300 touches for 1,331 yards and 10 touchdowns last year. He earned his first 1,000-yard rushing campaign thanks to 258 carries for 1,037 yards and seven touchdowns.

The former Memphis star has never returned kicks or punts on an NFL stage. However, he returned 23 kicks for 645 yards and one touchdown during his final year with the Tigers.

The Gibson kick-return news comes amid a summer where some doubt has been cast on his backfield role.

Rookie Brian Robinson out of Alabama notably worked with the starters during the team's Week 2 preseason matchup with the Kansas City Chiefs last Saturday. Gibson got some work as well, but Robinson was the first back on the field.

At the very least, it appears that Robinson is working his way toward a regular-season running back role. Ben Standig of The Athletic wrote the following on Aug. 23.

"We entered training camp wondering about the backfield usage. Then Antonio Gibson fumbled again in the preseason, his head coach publicly told him to run more decisively and the 1,000-yard running back worked some on special teams last week. Factor in third-round pick Brian Robinson’s strong showing, and Gibson’s hold on the RB1 spot seems dicey. Gibson remains the best bet for touches—and a dynamic playmaker—but Robinson’s odds have improved as well, and he appears the more consistent of the two."

That's a bit more of an optimistic picture than the one Sam Fortier of the Washington Post painted the week before when he reported that Gibson was working on the punt team:

Sam Fortier @Sam4TR

Punt*** not punt block

The top three running backs on the Commanders' unofficial depth chart right now are Gibson, J.D. McKissic and Robinson, in that order. Alex Erickson is currently slated as the top kick returner, although that appears subject to change based on Rivera's remarks.

Ultimately, there's reason to wonder whether an increase in Gibson's special teams usage is a sign that he's not going to be used as frequently in the backfield this year. The Commanders already used McKissic more in the pass game than Gibson, with the former back seeing 53 targets to Gibson's 52 despite playing five fewer matchups.

With Robinson now squarely in the backfield, this could end up being a committee situation as Washington looks for its second NFC East title in three years.


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