Last season, the Redskins led the NFL in rushing with 2,709 yards. But almost all of it came from Morris and RGIII (815 yards). The team’s next-best rusher had only 88 yards! No one thinks Griffin, with a rebuilt knee, will be asked to run 120 times this season. So who makes up the difference? Who’s the relief for Morris or a third-down back that also catches passes? It certainly looks like Helu, who, despite only five starts in ’11, had 640 yards rushing and caught 49 passes for 379 yards, too.
“Our second team really moved the ball against their first-team defense,” said Helu, who also noted that he was surrounded by familiar faces, making his return much easier. “To pull off what [General Manager] Bruce Allen did and get everybody back is remarkable.”
A weak free agent class helped the Redskins stay intact by restructuring contracts and re-signing some, like cornerback DeAngelo Hall, who might not have returned in other years. Irony came into play, too. The same autocratic NFL that slapped the Redskins with a $36 million ’cause-we-say-so penalty was, perhaps, a contributing factor in that dreary free agent market in which hardly a cornerback anywhere got a competitive salary offer. Never say “collusion.” But the NFL gets want it wants. Last offseason, even as it kept the Redskins from adding star names, it may have helped them stay intact.
“It’s true that we couldn’t go out and get huge price free agents,” said safety Reed Doughty, who adds that the Redskins, coming off a 10-6 year, weren’t exactly stuck with dregs. “But they only kept people they wanted.”
Preseason wins seem to exist for the sole purpose of teasing provincials into overestimating the local team. So before allowing too much exhibition enthusiasm, let’s note two negative factors. The Redskins’ pass defense was awful last year, 30th and 29th in yards and touchdowns allowed, respectively. Against the Bills, Josh Wilson was called for a 34-yard pass-interference penalty on a bomb on the first play from scrimmage. Buffalo knew where to test.
Rookies Bacarri Rambo and David Amerson will play key roles in the secondary. Neither has looked adequate yet on open-field tackles. And against the Bills, Amerson was penalized 57 yards for two infractions.
Also, a main reason the Redskins went 10-6 last year was a plus-17 in turnover differential. That can hardly be overemphasized. In the last 43 years, the Redskins have topped that mark only four times. Only three times have they had back-to-back seasons with plus-10 in turnovers.
Okay, that’s enough realism for August. Until the games begin to count and RGIII shows how healthy his knee truly is, here’s the central news about the Redskins: By the end of last year, they played like a true team.
Now almost every one of them is back.
For more by Thomas Boswell, visit washingtonpost.com/boswell.