Republished from The Sports Capitol with permission.
ASHBURN, Va. — If the Washington Redskins presented players a “Mr. Congeniality” award, Chris Thompson would retire that sash.
The slashing running back wasn’t feeling so friendly in 2014 when he didn’t make the initial roster entering the regular season under then first-year head coach Jay Gruden. Sure, the Redskins wanted Thompson around on the practice squad. But the 2013 fifth-round pick couldn’t have cared less about their wants at the moment.
“I won’t lie to you. I was real upset about it,” Thompson said. “I called my agent and told him I didn’t want to come back here.”
The undersized back that four years later plays a large role in Washington’s offense remained for three reasons: 1) The raw emotion receded, 2) No other team signed him off the Redskins’ practice squad, 3) Gruden convinced Thompson of a grander plan.
“I always think about when I was cut and put on practice squad my second year,” Thompson said this week of the moment rooted in the tight bond with his head coach. “Jay met with me when I signed back, and he told me, ‘I know this is going to be hard for you, but I have a bigger plan for you, and I just need you to be patient with me. You’re part of a bigger picture with this team. I want you here with me.’”
Thompson had a choice. Believe this man, a coach who wasn’t with the organization the prior year when Washington drafted Thompson, or let the current anger carry the day. Gruden showing belief in the little dual threat won out.
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“I had never got that from a coach before,” Thompson said. “From that point on, I just trusted in [Jay] and over time him sticking to his word has made our relationship stronger. I would do anything for Jay. I would run through a wall for Jay if he asked me to.”
Fortunately for the 5-foot-8, 195-pound back, Gruden prefers when Thompson avoids smacking into massive and sturdy structures. Good thing for the coach is that the playmaker has turned into one of the league’s best at doing just that with the football in his hands.
Despite sitting out the entire preseason while finishing his recovery from a fractured fibula suffered in Week 11 at New Orleans last season, Thompson delivered a magical performance in Washington’s 2018 season-opening 24-6 win at Arizona. He served as the outside counter to Adrian Peterson’s inside power. Thompson compiled 128 yards from scrimmage along with a receiving touchdown on just 11 touches. His 65 yards on five carries jumped his career yards per carry average to a wow-level 5.4.
“Yeah, he’s been incredible,” a gushing Gruden said nearly 24 hours after Sunday’s triumph. “You know, his work ethic to get back to where he was yesterday, I didn’t see any hesitancy whatsoever. He hit the hole hard. He was explosive. He was great in the pass game, both pass protection and in the routes. He just did what CT always does, and you could see how much of an impact it had on our team when he left last year.”
The hurt over not making the 2014 roster stuck with Thompson, “for a while. I didn’t let them see it.” He remained on the practice squad until the season’s final month. Gruden’s vision began showing the following season when Thompson caught 35 passes. Another 49 came the next year before his 2017 breakout campaign with 804 yards from scrimmage and 39 receptions in 10 games prior to the injury.
The organization showed faith in Thompson before the 2017 season by signing him to a two-year extension that carries through 2019.
“Well, he’s such a good kid and a hard worker number one,” Gruden said of the reason behind Thompson’s growth. “That’s a great combination. If you work hard and you are a great kid, then good things will happen to you.”
The coach being honest and direct four years prior helped Thompson remain positive about Gruden.
“[Jay] had the trust in me as a young guy who was still trying to find his way in this league. He trusted me to get the job done in critical situations. To be his third-down back, to the be the guy that protects his quarterback as teams are bringing pressure. Me being the smallest guy on the team, he trusted me to do that (and) being able to convert on third downs.”
The most significant conversion in their relationship came in September of 2014. Their fondness for one another, just like Thompson’s career, has only gained momentum since.
Ben Standig is a host, writer and co-founder of The Sports Capitol. This D.C. area native grew up rooting for all the local squads and dabbled in the professional media world after college before making a full shift to sports writing in 2005. Since, Ben has covered every team and big event in town for several outlets including the Associated Press, NBCWashington.com and Scout.com.