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Posted at 11:00 AM ET, 08/15/2012

Redskins running back competition complicated by injuries

Washington Redskins coach Mike Shanahan has yet to get a good grasp on his running back situation.

Tim Hightower, Roy Helu and Evan Royster were all expected to compete for the starting job. But as the Redskins prepare for their second preseason game, only Royster is fully healthy.

Hightower continues to work his way back from a November surgery to repair a torn ACL, and Helu this week has been sidelined with tendonitis in his left Achilles’ tendon.

Royster, who started last week’s preseason opener at Buffalo, continued to get the bulk of the first-team reps on Tuesday, with rookie Alfred Morris spelling him.

Running back Evan Royster averaged 5.9 yards per carry on 56 attempts a year ago. (John McDonnell - The Washington Post)
Shanahan had hoped that Hightower — probably the most complete of all the backs if healthy — would be ready to go by the third preseason game. But on Tuesday, the coach indicated that Hightower, who has been limited to positional and one-on-one drills, might not be ready that soon.

“I’m not sure about the third game, or the fourth game, but we’re going to make a decision based on what is best for him,” Shanahan said. “We don’t want to throw him up here too quick, but I’ve seen some good strides out of him over the last two or three days. Maybe by Friday he can start taking some reps with the team and we’ll get a little bit better indication of exactly where he’s at.”

Helu’s status for Saturday remains in doubt after he missed a second straight practice on Tuesday.

That translates into more opportunities for Royster as well as Morris, whom the team drafted in the sixth round out of Florida Atlantic.

Royster last season appeared in six games — starting two of them — and averaged 5.9 yards a carry and 7.6 yards per catch. Last week against Buffalo, Royster found yards hard to come by behind Washington’s patchwork offensive line and on seven carries, he gained 21 yards with a long of 12.

Redskins coaches liked Royster’s production a year ago, and are fans of the way he runs with good field vision and seems to pick up yardage effortlessly. Royster’s ability to pick up additional yards after contact also ranks among the plusses that coaches see in him.

“Royster is a very natural zone runner,” offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said of Royster last week. “He wants to be inside. He wants to press everything one gap at a time. He wants to suck people up and get back door cuts a lot faster than Helu does. There is a reason he is the all-time leading rusher at Penn State. If you turned on the tape he doesn’t jump off the screen because he doesn’t have that blazing speed that just jumps off. But, he is a very natural runner. He’s always getting good yards per carry — it happened in college. In the three or four games he played for us he was close to six yards per carry, so it’s continued. Hopefully it shows this year.”

Kyle Shanahan praised Helu’s breakaway speed, and Hightower’s versatility and toughness, but so far, the Redskins haven’t been able to see much of either on display.

For now, Mike Shanahan & Co. have to take a patient approach, and then go with whomever is able to get on the field, and who produces the most, over the next three games.

“The best players are going to play, and who they are right now, I’m not really sure,” Shanahan said. “It’s a very competitive situation, and hopefully, in the next three games I will have a better indication of who should be the guy.”

By  |  11:00 AM ET, 08/15/2012

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