Will Roy Helu Jr. play the role of third-down back for Redskins?

Roy Helu Jr.

Roy Helu Jr. busts through a set of pads during a minicamp in Ashburn last month. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

Between now and training camp, Mike Jones takes a closer look at players who’ll be key to Washington’s 2014 season.

The Redskins have no questions about their starting running back. Alfred Morris has recorded back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons and is coming off of a Pro Bowl appearance as he enters his third year in the NFL.

But, things remain unsettled at third-down back. Washington’s coaches need to settle on a back who can effectively pick up blitzes, and also provide a spark as a speedy change-of-pace runner and pass catcher.

Over the past three seasons, Washington has used Roy Helu Jr. in this capacity off and on. But he has either struggled to stay healthy, or to execute consistently. He has some quickness, but isn’t necessarily elusive. He has good hands, but he has rarely proved to be the home run threat on run plays or screen passes.

The Redskins in each of the past two offseasons have drafted backs who would seem to fit this bill. But Chris Thompson missed much of his rookie season because of shoulder surgery, and the latest candidate for this job, rookie Lache Seastrunk, is obviously unproven. Seastrunk seems to be more unproven than most rookies because of the fact that Baylor used him in the passing game next to never.

Thompson must prove he can stay healthy – something he hasn’t done since his sophomore season at Florida State. Meanwhile, Seastrunk has to show coaches that he can back up his claim to reporters this offseason that he has “no weaknesses” to his game.

Helu will try to fend both young bucks off. He also will try to display improvement and greater consistency.

Helu recorded 49 catches for 379 yards and a touchdown as a rookie, then missed all but three games in 2012. Last season he had 31 catches for 251 yards. He also averaged a decent 4.4 yards per carry (62 rushes for 274 yards and four touchdowns) in 2013.

But the knock on Helu has been that he takes what the defense gives him, rarely makes something out of nothing and lacks the ideal wiggle of a change-of-pace back.

Experience could help him hold off the youngsters, however. Both remain green in the pass-protection department, which is crucial.

Helu lost the head coach and running backs coach that selected him out of college, however, so his future certainly remains shaky. As is the case with linemen, running backs can’t truly display their capabilities and improvements in non-contact practices. So, Helu will aim to make the most of whatever preseason snaps he receives as he fights to hang onto his job.

Have a Redskins question? Send an e-mail to mike.jones@washpost.com with the subject line “Mailbag question,” and it might be answered on Tuesday in The Mailbag.

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