Training Camp Battle: Running Back
The running back position turned out to be a delightful surprise for an otherwise lackluster Redskins offense in 2011.
Tim Hightower, acquired last August from the Arizona Cardinals for defensive end Vonnie Holliday and a 2012 sixth round selection, had a fantastic preseason, posting 6.8 yards per carry and two touchdowns on just 25 carries in three games. Before tearing his ACL in his left knee in late October against Carolina, he put up pedestrian numbers in the regular season when compared to his preseason performance.
When Hightower wasn't putting up the production desired by coach Mike Shanahan, that allowed him to display his diamonds in the rough. A holdover from their days in Denver, Ryan Torain got the first crack to make an impact. He did just that in Week 4 against the St. Louis Rams when he put up 135 yards and one touchdown on 19 carries. After that performance, the rest of the season was a tremendous letdown for Torain, who was released just prior to the final game of the season.
While Torain faltered, rookie running back Roy Helu stepped up and peaked down the stretch, galloping his way to three straight 100-yard games from Week 12 to Week 14. The fifth-rounder out of Nebraska ended up starting five games and finished the season second among rookie running backs with 640 yards.
The Redskins also experimented with former Cowboys running back Tashard Choice and when that didn't work, they decided to elevate rookie Evan Royster to the active roster in late November. Royster, Penn State's all-time leading rusher, was a sixth round pick and put up 100-yard performances in the final two games. He finished the season averaging 5.9 yards per carry in six games.
Washington experienced a glowing revelation in the performances of Helu and Royster during their rookie campaigns. Their results give the coaching staff more confidence in the offense heading into the 2012 season.
Hightower entered this offseason as an unrestricted free agent but taking his injury into consideration, the team waited until mid-May to bring him back in the fold.
The Redskins signed no other veteran backs and chose to provide depth through the draft and undrafted free agency.
Alfred Morris was selected in the sixth round in this past April's draft out of Florida Atlantic University. He left that school as their leader in carries, rushing yards, rushing yards per game, rushing touchdowns and all-purpose yards. Morris has a short and stocky build and can play running back, fullback and H-back.
Also competing for a spot on the roster are undrafted free agents Lennon Creer (Louisiana Tech) and Landover, Md. native Antwon Bailey (Syracuse). Young veteran Tristan Davis joined the practice squad in the middle of last season and was retained on a futures contract in January.
At fullback, the torch was officially passed on to Darrel Young when beloved veteran Mike Sellers was released prior to the start of free agency. Young started eight of his 13 games played and scored his first career touchdown in 2011. Now the uncontested starter, Young can rest easy knowing Morris is capable of filling in for him if needed.
With Shanahan's running back by committee system in place, the Redskins are in good shape in the backfield. Adding the mobile Robert Griffin III at quarterback will only make the rotation of Hightower, Helu and Royster that much more versatile and hopefully productive.
This article was released on 2012-07-13.
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