ST. LOUIS — Midway through the second quarter against the league’s worst rush defense, Washington coaches decided they’d had enough. Tim Hightower, the team’s starting running back for the first month of the season, had managed just 13 yards on six carries.
Said Torain, “I’ve been waiting to hear that for a long time.”
In his first action of the year, Torain rolled up 135 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries in the Redskins’ 17-10 win over the Rams on Sunday.
It “was like he was possessed,” Coach Mike Shanahan said.
Torain played the bulk of the second half in the backfield, and Shanahan now has a big decision to make before Washington plays again, Oct. 16 against Philadelphia: Stick with Hightower or give the starting job to Torain?
“We’re going to play the best players,” Shanahan said. “The good thing about it, we've got three football players at the running back position. All three guys can play. All guys have a strength, and we'll play the hot guy.”
If Shanahan knows his plan, he certainly wasn’t ready to reveal it Sunday evening. Both Torain and Hightower said they would approach the next game the same way they’ve prepared for the team's first four.
“One guy, one day, he may have a better day, and you stick with him,” Hightower said. “You got to feed the hot hand, and that’s what they did today. I got to go back to the drawing board and get myself ready for the next game.”
Shanahan said he noticed in practice throughout the week that Hightower seemed sluggish and Torain was “at a different level, a little bit more fresh than the rest of the guys.”
Coaches were prepared to use Torain for the first time in St. Louis, a move expedited by Hightower’s slow start.
“Every single game, they’re always telling me to be ready, stay focused, keep working hard,” Torain said. “Finally got that opportunity to get out there and make some plays.”
When he entered the game midway through the second quarter, the Redskins faced first-and-10 from the Rams 27-yard line. Torain ran left for a seven-yard gain. On the next play, he went the same direction and this time found a big hole. Twenty yards later, he was in the end zone.
Torain started the second half and had 17 carries in the final two quarters. Hightower had just one run in the second half, but still saw playing time. He was used primarily as the team's third-down back, providing help in pass protection.
But it was Torain who kept making the St. Louis defenders miss. It was often the second or third defender to reach the third-year running back who finally brought him down. Torain had 12 runs for five or more yards, including gains of 39, 20 and 16 yards. He topped 100 yards before the fourth quarter even began — the fourth 100-yard game of his career.
“Ryan exploded onto the scene, ran with a lot of speed and power, hit the holes and had a great game,” quarterback Rex Grossman said. “It was good to see him get back in there.”
The Redskins also received a spark from rookie Roy Helu, who chipped in 35 yards on eight carries. Washington’s 196 rushing yards Sunday marked the team's most since October 2008.
But it was Torain’s performance that stood out and gives coaches reason to consider juggling the workload in the future.
“It’s definitely an uplift for me,” Torain said. “Just because I've been working hard and I finally got an opportunity to show it.”
Regardless of which running back Shanahan starts against the Eagles, both said competition at the position can only help.
“At the end of the day, I want to win, and I want to be the best that I can be,” Hightower said. “I got two guys who are pushing me. It’s going to make me better, and I’m going to make them better. Ultimately, it’s going to make all of us better.”