A month ago, Tim Hightower was still a member of the Arizona Cardinals, preparing to enter his fourth season, likely as a backup. Thursday night, though, he further solidified his position in the Washington Redskins backfield, gaining 56 yards on nine carries and dazzling on a 37-yard touchdown run. It all reaffirmed Hightower’s belief that his trade to the Redskins – for veteran defensive lineman Vonnie Holliday – was a perfect fit.
“I felt that way when I first got here,” Hightower said. “I felt like I was here for a reason. I felt like the guys here in this locker room, a special team, special coaching staff. My first day I kind of felt like a rookie all over again, with everything kind of flying so fast and learning a new play book. But I think the more and more I’m starting to play, the more comfortable I’m going to get in this offense, and meshing with these guys. It’s a great situation.”
In three preseason games – all of which he has started – Hightower has 25 carries for 170 yards, an average of 6.8 yards per carry. He had a 58-yard gain last week against Indianapolis, and has shown the ability to break the big play. Of his 25 rushing attempts, five have gone for 10 or more yards – 20 percent of his attempts. In his three seasons in Arizona, only 11.8 percent of his carries went for 10 or more yards.
Hightower seems already comfortable in Coach Mike Shanahan’s zone-blocking system, which favors running backs who can anticipate an opening and make one cutback to open space. On the touchdown run against Baltimore, the system was on full display. Left tackle Trent Williams threw an excellent block on Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, and receivers blocked well downfield, as Shanahan demands they do.
“When you’re a running back and you see your O-linemen out running, that’s a great feeling,” Hightower said. “It’s a great sign. Those guys work hard. That’s exactly what they do in practice. They finish their blocks. Receivers finish their blocks, fullbacks, tight ends. There’s been a true commitment to the run. There’s been a true commitment to doing the small things, the details in practice. I think it’s showing in every single phase of our game right now.”
Hightower’s productive preseason comes as Ryan Torain, who took over as the starter for Clinton Portis last year, hasn’t played a snap because of a broken bone in his hand. Rookie Roy Helu led the team in attempts against the Ravens with 13 (for 44 yards), but no other back got a carry. Torain’s availability for the preseason finale – next Thursday against Tampa Bay at FedEx Field – will be determined over the course of the week.