Everyone loves the underdog.
And last summer, a sixth round draft choice from unheralded Florida Atlantic drove a 1991 Mazda 626 Boca Raton, in hopes of making the Washington Redskins. Not only would the driver of the car earn a roster spot, but when the 2012 season was done, running back Alfred Morris finished as the league’s third best rusher, and set a franchise record for rushing yards in a season.
Further, Morris’ amazing rise was made all the more heartwarming by Morris himself. Always smiling, always polite, always telling everyone how happy he was just to have an opportunity, Morris displayed the combination of impressive performance, minus any of the pretense one might expect. In fact, on one occasion, Morris stunned the assembled media by apologizing to them for arriving one minute late to a press conference.
Yes, we couldn’t get enough of Morris during his rookie season, and all indications are the love affair between the humble, unassuming running back and Redskin fans will continue. But for all Morris’ modesty, friendliness and production, I have a wish for year two and beyond: I’d like to see less of Alfred Morris.
Specifically, Morris needs to carry the ball less. No, I’m not advocating moving Morris to the bench, or replacing him with someone else. However, I am advocating lightening his work load.
See, last season Morris reached a pretty lofty plateau for running backs in carrying the ball 300 or more times (335, in fact). Historically, 300 carries is a benchmark of both durability and accomplishment, as you need to be productive enough for your team to hand you the ball 300 times, and durable enough to take the pounding. And without rehashing piles of statistical data, running backs such as Chris Johnson, Rashard Mendenhall and Ryan Grant in recent years, indicate the toll 300 plus carries takes on running backs. While the Redskins probably got away with it during Morris’ rookie season, asking for another 300 carry season is probably not fair.
Rather, the Redksins need someone to emerge not to replace Morris, but capable enough to spell him, and keep his carry tally at a reasonable level.
Of course, another layer to this matter was the guy who essentially did spell Morris in the running game, quarterback Robert Griffin III. Griffin was second on the team with 118 carries, and with Morris combined for 89 percent of the Redskins total rushing yards.
With the concern over Griffin’s health well-documented, after he tore knee ligaments in the playoff game versus Seattle, the Redskins don’t want him being the guy spelling Morris.
The long and short of it is, someone has to emerge. Whether that guy is Evan Royster, who featured last season in short yardage, third year back Roy Helu or one of the 2013 draftees Juwan Jamison or Chris Thompson, it doesn’t really matter. The Redskins need better production from a second running back. Morris, and for that matter Griffin, are counting on it.