JACKSONVILLE – Jay Gruden's importance can't be overstated.
New Jaguars running back Chris Thompson on Tuesday afternoon discussed multiple topics during his first meeting with Jacksonville media, and Gruden unsurprisingly was featured prominently in the conversation.
Gruden is the Jaguars' new offensive coordinator. Thompson played for Washington throughout Gruden's five-plus seasons as head coach there.
And yes, Thompson said, Gruden has been a major influence on his career.
"I would say he's one of the biggest reasons I was able to have the success that I had in Washington, and to be able to stick around there," Thompson said during the video conference.
Thompson, a fifth-round selection by Washington in the 2013 NFL Draft, was released by Gruden and the Redskins late in the 2014 preseason. He re-signed to the Redskins' practice squad after a conversation with Gruden convinced him that the coach "had my back," and Thompson said Tuesday he believes he can assist younger Jaguars players to "grasp the offense and know what Jay is expecting."
The last part of that quote may be key to beginning to understand Gruden's offensive approach.
Discussing Gruden Tuesday, Thompson focused on the coach's diverse offense. Gruden is known for creating matchup advantages with personnel. Thompson on Tuesday agreed with a point made last week by new Jaguars tight end Tyler Eifert, who played for Cincinnati in 2013 when Gruden was offensive coordinator there – that a key to thriving in the system is a deep understanding of what's expected from multiple positions.
"He wants his playmakers to know what everybody's doing," Thompson said. "He's going to line guys all up in different places. We had a couple of plays with the Redskins where we would put [wide receiver] Jamison Crowder back at running back and then have me playing at the slot receiver spot in a bunch set."
Thompson said he discussed this with Jaguars quarterback Gardner Minshew II recently.
"I was just letting him (Minshew) know he (Gruden) wants to put guys all over the place," Thompson said. "It's not just knowing what you have to do, but if you know what the guys around you are doing as well it helps give him even more flexibility to do some things and open up that offense."
Thompson, too, said Gruden's offense will spread opportunities between skill-position players.
"For him, the more playmakers the better," Thompson said. "He's going to spread the ball around. It's not going to be one guy that will be the full focus of the offense. Obviously, you have your top targets. With the Redskins, we knew [tight end] Jordan Reid was the No. 1-targeted guy, but you never knew.
"We had a lot of different-receiver sets there and he always made it work with the skill players he had. From what I know of the players and playmakers who are here in Jacksonville, it's going to be good for all of them."
Thompson, who played collegiately at Florida State and signed with the Jaguars as an unrestricted free agent shortly after the 2020 NFL Draft, thrived at times in Gruden's offense. He rushed for 1,194 yards and five touchdowns and was consistently productive as a receiver with 212 career receptions for 1,772 yards and 10 touchdowns. Thompson said Tuesday that he is familiar with Jaguars starting running back Leonard Fournette, and that he expects his own role in Jacksonville to be as a receiver.
"Just looking back at a couple of games that I've watched over the past year there in JAX … Leonard doesn't tire too much," Thompson said with a laugh. "We're just going to have to find some kind of way [to contribute]. Given Jay's offense, I know I'm going to have some opportunities there.
"I think for me that [receiving] is probably going to be more my role, and that's what it's been for the last few years."
And he said that considering the approach of his old head coach – and the Jaguars' new coordinator – he should be able to find a way to be productive.
"That's the biggest thing – just trying to fit in where I can," he said. "I feel like my biggest skill set is being able to catch the ball well and be a good route-runner. I'm excited to be able to do that.
"I know Jay is super-creative with his offense, so there may be some sets where we may be able to get a couple of running backs out there on the field at the same time.
"It's kind of a wait-and-see type thing right now."