Helu, Royster and Hightower Saturday (John McDonnell/THE WASHINGTON POST)

Hightower suffered the season-ending surgery last October and has spent the last eight months working his way back to full strength.

Hightower, who re-signed with Washington as a free agent in May, was healthy enough that the Redskins didn’t open training camp with him on the Physically Unable to Perform list. But coach Mike Shanahan has openly said that Hightower is far from 100 percent, and coaches have limited the four-year veteran’s workload.

Hightower hasn’t held back when he does get carries in live action. But his knee remains sore, and he still moves with a noticeable limp when running and walking. Last Saturday Hightower received what Shanahan said was a planned maintenance day off. Hightower insisted Monday that he has suffered no setbacks and remains encouraged by his progress.

“I’m just getting better each day,” Hightower said after Monday morning’s walk-through. “I didn’t [regress] at all. I don’t think it’s any area of concern. I just went out there the first couple days to see how my body felt, and I just keep getting better. I’m still on track. I’ll be out there Game 1.”

The Redskins’ medical staff has closely monitored Hightower to ensure that he doesn’t put himself at risk of a setback.

Hightower admitted that it’s not easy following the trainers’ lead, but that his patience is improving. Hightower — who is competing with Evan Royster and Roy Helu for the starting running back duties — also said that he has a realistic understanding that until he has fully healed, he isn’t the best backfield option for the Redskins.

“I’m definitely still working to get back to being where I feel completely comfortable. If I’m not able to go out there and give it 110 [percent] and be at 110, then I’m not going to be out there,” explained Hightower who, in five games last season, averaged 3.8 yards a carry and had one rushing touchdown and one receiving touchdown.. “Somebody else that’s able to do it will be out there. I’m a competitor, but I want to win, too. And if I’m not the best person to be out there and to help my team win, then I’ll take my time and get myself better so when I do get on that field, there’ll be no questions.”

In 10 days, the Redskins play their first preseason game at Buffalo. Hightower badly wants to play. To him, knocking off rust with game action is much more important than saving himself for the regular season.

“Any time I get the opportunity to play football, I want to play,” Hightower said. “I don’t look at New Orleans. I look at it as it’s Buffalo and a chance for me to get better. I look at it as a job interview and chance to put something on my resume, and a chance for us as a team to get better. We need every single practice. We need every game and practice, and they need me out there. If I’m able to go, I’m going to go.”

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