With Tim Hightower still working his way back into form and Roy Helu Jr. sidelined by tendinitis in his left Achilles’ tendon, rookie running back Alfred Morris figures to see significant action Saturday night against the Chicago Bears, and possibly could start for the Washington Redskins.
The only healthy veteran running back is Evan Royster, who started last week against the Bills, but coach Mike Shanahan said that Morris – Washington’s sixth-round pick out of Florida Atlantic — will get a long, hard look as the Redskins continue to try to sort out their running back situation.
“We kind of know what Royster can do, so a guy like Morris will get more reps in the second game than a guy like Royster, because we want to evaluate some of these guys and see what they can do in live situations,” Shanahan said on Wednesday.
Shanahan on Thursday declined to name a starter for Saturday’s game, but said that Morris, Tristan Davis and Royster would all see time.
The coach said that while he has a good idea of Morris’s capabilities, he is interested in seeing how the back does behind Washington’s first-team offensive line and against Chicago’s starters.
“Sometimes you like to see guys versus starters because it gives you a true indication of what they can do,” Shanahan said. “[It’s] not necessarily as much for the running backs sometimes as it is for the offensive line, tight ends, who are actually blocking. Running backs, you kind of get a feel either way.”
Morris rushed for 54 yards on 15 carries against Buffalo’s second and third team. This week, however, he received a good amount of carries with Washington’s first team as he rotated in and out with Royster in preparation for Saturday’s test.
“It’s definitely a great opportunity. Any chance you get out there, especially being a rookie, I want to make the most of it,” the 5-foot-10, 218-pounder said. “And this time, it’s even better, because last week it was against the [second- and third-string teams], and this week, I get to go against the [starters]. So that’s going to make a big difference. I’m definitely looking forward to it.”
Morris expects to do well Saturday. He described his first NFL game experience as “amazing. Surprisingly, I didn’t have any butterflies. I was just out there having fun. It was just another day at the office.”
Like quarterback Robert Griffin III last week, Morris credited Washington’s defense, and the way Shanahan has structured practices with many game-like situations, for his preparedness against Buffalo.
“Our defense flies around, and so I got into the game, it was like, ‘Whoa, I can see the holes, I can do what I do on a daily basis.’ So it definitely is a little easier,” Morris said.
Running the ball in Washington’s zone blocking scheme didn’t require much adjustment for Morris – a strong but quick one-cut back. But pass protection has. During their evaluation process, Redskins coaches also place a high priority on how a running back picks up blitzes.
Morris admittedly struggled early on in that capacity, but sees himself improving.
“I started off pretty rough. I was kind of missing some blitzes and stuff because it’s different,” he said. “In college, I had a half-field read, and here I have a full-field read. So I just have to get used to scanning the whole field within a matter of seconds before the ball’s snapped. But I’ve definitely come a long way, and I haven’t missed a blitz in a little while now, so I definitely want to keep up the good work.”
Said Shanahan, “It’s a learning experience for all rookies. Not a lot of colleges emphasize the protection part of the game. No. 1, they’re carrying the ball so many times that they either scat them out of the backfield or they just don’t work on it because they’re on a different type of offense. I’ve seen big strides with both our rookie running backs last year, tremendous strides. Helu is a different player, as well as Royster. I expect Alfred to keep on improving in that area as well.”