Redskins running back Alfred Morris took another step toward developing into an every-down back, playing the bulk of his team’s third downs this past Sunday, in addition to his usual first- and second-down duties.
Ever since 2010, when the Redskins lost Clinton Portis to injury after five games and then released him the following offseason, the team has sought a complete running back, but has instead had to use a platoon system.
This season Morris took over as the team’s primary rusher, and has produced impressive numbers. But the Redskins routinely pulled the rookie on third downs because second-year pro Evan Royster was further along in his development as a pass protector.
But Royster has struggled in recent weeks, and on Sunday, Morris remained on the field for nine of the team’s 11 third-down plays against Philadelphia.
Morris, who rushed for rushed for 76 yards on 20 carries and had one catch for seven yards, played 48 of his team’s 53 offensive snaps. Royster, meanwhile, played two.
It was a sign that the sixth-round pick out of Florida Atlantic, who stands just 131 yards shy of the 1,000-yard rushing mark, has continued his development, and has earned the trust of his coaches.
“He’s getting much more comfortable with the system,” Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said. “I told him he can stay in there as long as he wants to. When he gets tired, he comes out on his own. He’s got a good feel for our protections right now.”
On those nine third down plays, the Redskins used Morris in a variety of ways — as a ball carrier, receiver and pass protector.
When interviewed about Morris earlier in the season, his former college coach Howard Schnellenberger said he believed that Morris was fully capable of handling third-down duties.
“For the life of me, I can’t figure out why they take him out on third downs,” the now retired coach said in October. “He has great hands, can run all the routes out of the backfield, is physical enough and doesn’t mind blocking. I’d like to see him get a chance on third downs. But they know what they’re doing and what they’re looking for.”
Early in the year, Morris said that he was still getting used to reading NFL defenses, and scanning the whole field. In college he was responsible for reading one half of the defense and picking up blitzes from one side. But he believed that he was making strides and that if needed, he could handle those third-down duties.
After nine weeks of games and practices, Morris obviously showed his coaches enough for them to give him the green light on third downs. Shanahan said keeping Morris in the game on third downs also helps make Washington’s offense less predictable.
“Any time he’s in the game, he’s an added threat for us,” Shanahan said. “He feels good enough to pick up all the different protection schemes. He’s strong enough right now where he’ll put his hat in there and do the things that he needs to do to give us good protection. I have a lot of confidence in him. He’s always a threat running the football, so that’s why he’s in there.”