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Running Backs Ready To Lay It All On Line

Posted Sep 4, 2013

Armed with a veteran fullback and four dynamic running backs, the Washington Redskins running game looks to improve on last year's league-leading unit.


Not since Clinton Portis started Weeks 1 in 2009 and 2010 have the Washington Redskins started the same running back to begin consecutive seasons.

This year, with Alfred Morris back to prove he was no one-hit wonder, the Redskins have finally found their stride in the running game.

But unlike last year, the Redskins can rely on more of a group effort, with Roy Helu Jr., Evan Royster and rookie speedster Chris Thompson all in the mix.

“The sky is the limit for us. We can go so much further beyond [last year] but it’s up to us and our execution. It really depends on how much we want it,” Morris said. “We laid a great foundation last year.”

That “foundation” put the Redskins as the top rushing attack in the league, averaging nearly 170 yards per game for 2,709 total yards.

In order for Morris to do his part in Year 2, he knows he needs to seriously focus on the things that matter. Like going out and having fun.

“That’s all I did last year and that’s my plan this year,” he said with a grin. “Even if I don’t have numbers like I did last year, I wouldn’t care. That doesn’t define a successful season to me.

“Going to at least the second round of the playoffs—that’s a successful season for me.”

Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan praised the competitive, community atmosphere of the Redskins running back group, a position that frequently gets overlooked in discussions of depth.

“We’ve got a good problem to have,” he said. “I think there’s a bunch of guys there that can play in this league and that can help us.”

Now going into his fourth season, fullback Darrel Young is the elder statesman of the group and said he saw a big step forward from all three veterans this preseason.

“I see a lot of guys that are hungry out there, understanding the competitive level that’s in front of them,” he said. “Everyone is doing a great job of just staying poised, not letting the game come to them but going out there and making the plays they need to make to be successful.”

Before Morris, Young had never blocked for the same running back for more than half a season, as he started in front of six backs in three years.

Now with Morris in place and a comfort level with Royster and Helu Jr., he feels more effective blocking for them.

“Knowing the running backs, knowing their strengths and what they’re reading, it helps me a lot too,” he said. “It’s just playing off each other, whether that be in the passing game or the running game, all of the stuff that you may not know about each other when you first come in. I feel like I’ve grown with these guys.

“It’s a good time for us to go out there and just lay it all on the line.”

The Redskins coaching staff was conservative with Alfred Morris in preseason action, rushing him only eight times in two games.

This is a far cry from the 39 attempts for 195 yards in his rookie season, but Young said that comes with the territory of establishing yourself as a rookie.

“Honestly, you have to pay your dues and he had to win the job,” Young said. “We had five guys that could have potentially been starters, so it’s different scenarios now where he’s proven himself.”

Young was unconcerned with Morris’ preseason workload, crediting the coaching staff for keeping his body protected while working everyone hard in practice.

“[Morris] hasn’t missed a step because in the snaps that he has taken, he’s been productive,” Young said. “I think the coaching staff has done a great job preparing him in practice and he’s been conditioning more.

“He’s a great back that seems to know how to take care of himself and do the right things off the field. I don’t think it will be anything less than 1,700 yards this year.”

This bold prediction would put Morris in elite company for young backs, as well as break the franchise mark he set last season. Young is confident in Morris’ ability to do that because of his physical and professional maturity over the last year.

“Everyone in the NFL has talent and everyone knows you have to do the little things to separate yourself, but it’s who actually does them,” Young explained. “I think he has a better understanding of the offense now and the defenses that the team plays and stuff.

“He has a better grasp on the schematic stuff and why certain plays are supposed to go outside or inside against certain fronts.”

While he may have to share snaps, having a healthy Helu Jr. in the mix is expected to keep Morris fresh down the stretch and not need to rush 335 times.

“That helps a lot for Alfred, having another guy that can come in and basically put you in the best situation to win. That’s always good for the team,” Young said. “It will be a relief for Alfred to actually have some security back there and the coaches won’t have to run him on first, second, third down this year and put him out there when he’s dead tired.”

But the surplus of talent does create a burden for Young, who will have to block for much faster, fresher running backs. This is a challenge he can’t wait to embrace.

“Honestly, I’ve got to get the hell out of my stance,” Young said with a laugh. “Both of those guys, their first steps are ridiculous. Both of those guys are football players and they’re reading it just like me, so I’ve just got to get going a little bit faster.

“It doesn’t really matter what type of backs they are. Alfred’s going to cut it if he sees something, or Roy might take it outside and stretch it a little more. Everyone’s different. It’ll be cool.”

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