Washington Redskins’ Running Backs

The Washington Redskins re-signed Tim Hightower to a one-year contract Sunday, creating what’s now a legitimate four back competition. Although it’s essentially Hightower’s job to lose.

As a columnist it’s my duty to address both sides of any situation. However, as a Die Hard Redskins fan, it’s easy to be a tad bias. It’s like having a child that plays sports – you’re always going to be bias towards him or her. So, I’ve started a series called “Impartial Judgment.” In these series, I’ll have a chance to break down the positives and negatives, with the intent to be a straight shooter providing unbiased opinions.

Washington has four running backs fighting for a spot on the 53 man roster. Three are likely to be selected, and with Alfred Morris being Washington’s 6th round 2012 draft pick, the final three may not be so obvious. Along with Morris are two 2nd year players, Roy Helu Jr. and Evan Royster. In 2011, Tim Hightower entered the season as Washington’s starting running back, tallying up 321 yards on 84 carries with one touchdown and 78 receiving yards, scoring once. In Week 7, Tim Hightower tore his ACL in the 2nd quarter, after having his best game of the season. Hightower was nagged by minor injuries, which he kept quiet about early in the season. It was apparent in his play, as he didn’t have the start most anticipated after flashing great ability in the pre-season.

With Hightower out, Roy Helu emerged as a legit starter, posting three straight 100 yard games – Weeks 12, 13, and 14. Helu accumulated 640 yards on 151 carries with one touchdown, and 379 yards on 49 receptions and a TD. Roy Helu seems to be the obvious player who will benefit most from the dual threat of  Robert Griffin III, as he’s big play waiting to happen. However, Helu’s pass protection needs fine tuning, and he seems to be the perfect complement – not main course.

Evan Royster was called up from practice squad and active for the final 6 games of the season. He flashed promise in the last two weeks of the season, posting consecutive 100 yard games. Royster had 328 yards on 56 carries, and 68 yards on 9 receptions. Much like Roy Helu, he needs to improve on pass protection. However, compared to Helu, he seems to be more of a “main course” guy than a complement.

Washington’s backfield is full of potential, but potential doesn’t always equate to production. On the surface, Washington doesn’t have a legit starter at the running back position. It’s a position that is done by committee around the NFL. There are only a handful of legit starters in the league, but that hasn’t hurt teams like the New England Patriots and Green Bay Packers.

Mike Shanahan typically rides the hot hand. However, he feels that Tim Hightower is the most complete back on the roster. He’s a guy that Shanahan can trust in pass protection, as well as the passing and running game. For Helu, Royster, and Alfred Morris, it comes down to pass protection and the ability to catch the football. All of those guys have no problem locating a hole, cutting back, and gaining yards. Pass protection is key.

Washington’s rookie running back, Alfred Morris prides himself on pass protection. He’s a guy that can also play special teams, which may be important for that 3rd slotted back. If Morris can prove he has soft hands, and successfully displays the attributes he’s touted for – don’t be surprised if he sneaks his way on the 53 man roster. Now, he is a 6th round rookie, and obviously he has a lot to fine tune. But he and Royster are likely to battle for a spot on the final roster. Mike Shanahan could stash Morris on the practice squad, before deciding to pull him out his back pocket – which is something he’s often done.

In my opinion, Helu should be used much like the Kansas City Chiefs utilize Jammal Charles. Though Jammal has been their most productive back prior to his season ending injury last year, he’s never been considered their starter. He’s a great change of pace back that will take advantage of the opportunities given to him. That’s a role, I believe Roy Helu Jr. would shine in. Especially with RG3 posing a threat to defenses, Helu on those pitch-out run plays could be lethal.

Tim Hightower is an overachiever. He’s not fast and doesn’t do anything extremely great, but you know what you’re getting from Tim. He does everything well and will provide additional leadership to the offense. Hightower has never been the main guy, even in his days with the Arizona Cardinals. He’s always been a complement. So the question is worth asking, can this guy be the main course? He has to stay healthy, and let’s not forget, he’s struggled holding on to the football. However, as the vet and most complete back Washington has, he’ll likely be the starter.

The Redskins are hanging their hat on potential at the running back position. It’s a common theme with this regime, and recent history suggest that the staff knows what they’re doing. Mike Shanahan typically has success with his running backs. So whoever starts, it really won’t matter – cumulative production is all that needs to be worried about.

If you enjoy talking Washington Redskins and all things NFL follow Rantsports.com Redskins columnist, Emmanual Benton on Twitter: 
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