Kapri Bibbs was out of work, not out of hope.
Traded from the Denver Broncos to the San Francisco 49ers after 29 carries in 12 games and then cut after training camp, Bibbs trained at Tom Shaw’s facility in Orlando and bided his time for three months.
Bibbs said he was “working my butt off every single day.”
It took season-ending injuries to three Washington Redskins running backs for Bibbs to get back into the NFL. On Sunday against Arizona, the 24-year-old scored a touchdown on screen-pass to become the latest newcomer to make an immediate impact for the Redskins. It was another much-needed contribution from a player essentially picked up off the street for a battered team in need of help from just about every source.
Center Tony Bergstrom played four days after signing in October, fill-in rookie kicker Nick Rose made 10 of 11 field goal attempts when Dustin Hopkins went down and defensive lineman Arthur Jones played 23 snaps in one game as an injury replacement before hurting his shoulder.
With no previous connections to the Redskins, Bibbs and Bergstrom have given the Redskins contributions they’ve needed every bit of just to stay afloat.
“I’ve been very impressed with them,” coach Jay Gruden said. “It’s one thing to come in here and learn the system but another to come in here and play and produce. Both of them did what they were asked of and they both played very well.”
Bibbs should again split carries with rookie Samaje Perine on Sunday against the Broncos, who had the former Colorado State star on their 53-man roster off and on from 2014-2016. At 6-8, Washington has only the prospect of finishing .500 to play for, though for Bibbs it’s a chance to revitalize his career.
“Kapri’s been ready to play for years now. He just kind of hasn’t had his opportunity,” said Bert Whigham, who trains players in Shaw’s program. “He’s healthy and hungry because he was sitting around training and watching players play that he feels like he’s better than or that he feels like he can compete with. His body’s fresh and ready to go, so I think he can make a difference.”
Thanks to the crash-course teaching of running backs coach Randy Jordan, that definitely seems possible.
“Ever since the first day I walked in, he put in extensive work and kept hounding us on the playbook and did little things to help me and make me feel more comfortable within the playbook,” Bibbs said after his 36-yard touchdown catch Sunday. “All props to Coach Jordan. He’s a great coach and I appreciate him for believing in me and putting me in there in that position.”
Bibbs made it clear he’s no NFL neophyte because this is his fourth year in the league. It’s also the fourth for Bergstrom, 31, who played four games for the Baltimore Ravens earlier this season and then stepped in cold at center for the Redskins on Oct. 29 and started twice more.
Quarterback Kirk Cousins appreciated Bergstrom’s ability to pick up his job quickly and the two developed a selfless working relationship in short order.
“He likes to try to keep as much off my plate as possible,” Cousins said. “So when he does have something for me, he almost asks apologetically, not trying to put too much on me. And I feel the opposite toward him: ‘Put as much on me as possible. You’ve only been here a few weeks.'”
That’s life for free agents out of football, trying to stay ready while not knowing where the next call will come from. So when safety D.J. Swearinger watched Bibbs score Sunday, he felt a special sense of pride.
“That’s been me,” said Swearinger, now a Redskins starter and their leader after stints with Houston, Tampa Bay and Arizona. “I definitely understand where he’s coming from. I’ve been on the couch before, watching football. Those guys, when we come in off the street, they’re hungry. They want to make their presence felt again in the league.”
Bibbs is working on that. He discusses Washington’s struggles and desire to finish strong like he has been around all season rather than talking about this being an audition for his future.
It probably is, though the Redskins’ lack of a steady running game the past three seasons could open the door. For now, Bibbs has a fan in Cousins.
“He’s been a joy to work with the last couple weeks and he’s shown some ability,” Cousins said. “It’s a great feeling when players that you pick up who are with other teams and on the practice squad and were just looking for an opportunity and then they arrive and they make good of that opportunity.”