“You guys kind of tease me a little bit, saying that I won’t say,” Shanahan said in front of a group of reporters late Friday at Redskins Park, after the team had completed its second practice of training camp. “I don’t know. I don’t know who’s going to be the tailback. I do know that I have three guys I have a lot of confidence in that played last year. . . . We’ll find out.”
As proof of his anything-can-happen hypothesis, Shanahan offered the example of the rookie year of Terrell Davis, his standout tailback in Denver, in 1995.
“People asked me about Terrell Davis,” Shanahan said. “They didn’t think he was going to make the football team going into the last preseason game, but he had a heck of a game. So we really don’t know who’s going to play. Maybe [Redskins rookie running back] Alfred Morris is the guy who steps up, just as Davis did. That’s why you have to have competition.”
Davis ran for 1,117 yards as a rookie in Denver to begin a magnificent four-year stretch in which he surpassed 1,500 rushing yards three times and helped Shanahan and Broncos quarterback John Elway to a pair of Super Bowl triumphs. Now Shanahan, after beginning his Redskins tenure with two seasons in which the team totaled only 11 victories, is looking for the runner — or combination of runners — to best complement rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III.
“We’ve got a lot of guys who can play,” Royster said. “It’s a competition right now and we’re all looking to get the starting spot. We want this team to win. But we all want to play.”
Shanahan had an uncanny knack in Denver for finding productive tailbacks without always having to turn to a highly celebrated player. Davis was a sixth-round draft pick. After Davis stopped churning out 1,500-yard seasons, the Shanahan-coached Broncos got 1,000-yard rushing seasons by Olandis Gary, Mike Anderson, Clinton Portis, Reuben Droughns and Tatum Bell.
The Redskins have yet to have a 1,000-yard rusher under Shanahan. The NFL is, more than ever, a pass-first league, so having a single workhorse runner no longer seems necessary for success.
But the Redskins would like to give Griffin all the assistance they can, and putting a productive runner in the backfield would mean defenses could not just key on the rookie quarterback. Shanahan’s system, with its zone-blocking approach by the offensive linemen, is a proven asset to a running game, but the Redskins also must pick the right runner or runners.