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Washington Commanders bench Antonio Gibson, sending clear message in the process

Vincent Frank

Washington Commanders running back Antonio Gibson was seen as one of the top young players at his position after a stellar 2021 campaign from the former college wide receiver.

That has not carried into training camp and the preseason. In Washington’s exhibition opener, Gibson lost a fumble against the Carolina Panthers. It was a continuation of fumble issues that plagued the running back during an otherwise brilliant 2021 campaign.

Commanders head coach Ron Rivera put Gibson on notice following last week’s game, too.

“Sometimes he tries to make a big play. Every play is designed to score, but when it’s not going to score. You’ve got to understand, if it’s not there, just stick my foot in the ground and get what I can and protect the ball.”

Washington Commanders’ Ron Rivera on Antonio Gibson

Rivera and Co. took this to a whole new level Saturday against the Kansas City Chiefs. Even with Carson Wentz and Washington’s first-team offense getting the start, Gibson was not on the field. Rather, RB1 duties went to rookie third-round pick Brian Robinson as Gibson started as the kick returner. The latter did come in on third down. But it must be noted that J.D. McKissic holds down that role and did not suit up Saturday.

Related: Antonio Gibson and 10 players to watch during NFL preseason Week 2

What is going on with Antonio Gibson and the Washington Commanders?

washington commnders' antonio gibson
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Gibson fumbled the ball six times a season ago after putting it on the turf just once as a rookie in 2020. This came amid a breakout performance from the former Memphis star and third-round pick.

Washington has no margin for error if it wants to compete with the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC East. Relying on a running back with such a high fumble rate just isn’t going to cut it. That’s especially true with the mistake-prone Wentz under center.

Ron Rivera is old school. He’s not going to put up with mistakes like we’ve seen from Gibson since the start of his sophomore campaign. That’s why Gibson has primarily been relegated to special teams since Washington’s preseason opener. Commanders offensive coordinator Scott Turner made that clear recently.

“That’s one of the first things that we talk about when we get together as an offense when training camp started is protect the football. We can’t waste possessions, and obviously, if you fumble the ball, that’s a waste of a possession. That’s a ball carrier’s first job, to protect the ball. We can’t have that.”

Scott Turner on Antonio Gibson

The question is now what becomes of Gibson moving forward. Robinson is more of a Rivera-like running back like we saw during his days with Jonathan Stewart and De’Angelo Williams in Carolina. McKissic is your ideal third-down back in that he can catch the ball and rarely loses the rock (three fumbles in 414 career touches). Washington also has youngster Jaret Patterson on the roster.

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While we’re going to stop short of saying that the Washington Commanders will look to trade Gibson, it’s clear he’s fallen out of favor. And with little time to go before Week 1 against the Jacksonville Jaguars, opportunities are running out for him to change this narrative.

It will certainly be interesting to see what comes of this over the next couple weeks. The onus is now on Gibson to change his trajectory and pull himself out of the proverbial dog house.