Nine months after his last football game, Redskins running back Roy Helu Jr. returned to the field this week, finally healthy enough to compete for a spot in a crowded yet uncertain backfield.
Hampered by an Achilles’ tendon strain in training camp, and then torn ligaments in one of his toes – an injury suffered in the season opener that forced him onto the injured reserve list two weeks later – Helu said he almost forgot what it felt like to be fully healthy.
But after having the toe surgically repaired this offseason and then working his way through rehabilitation and training on the side the bulk of voluntary offseason practices, Helu received clearance to practice fully on Wednesday.
He reported no setbacks on Thursday after his second straight day of a full workload, and he anticipated practicing fully in next week’s three-day minicamp.
“It was just good to be back with the guys and competing against one another, against the defense and executing plays,” Helu said. “It was fun. The joy of being healthier and competing was pretty cool. … It’s been definitely a long time feeling this healthy.”
The Redskins have held some recovering players out of offseason practices as a precaution. Tight end Fred Davis (Achilles’) and Pierre Garcon (shoulder) would practice if the team had a game next week, Coach Mike Shanahan said, but they have been held back to avoid the risk of a setback this early in the year.
Helu wanted to get back on the field before training camp, however. He didn’t believe that he did so prematurely, and the doctors agreed, as they have given him clearance. Helu said he didn’t have any concerns about suffering a setback.
“After the experience I’ve had of going through this process of going through it and healing,” Helu said, “I’ve decided to be really patient in doing that, and whatever may happen in the future, I’ll do my best, but I can’t control that. So far, it’s been good experience and I’m not worried about the fear of hurting it later on.”
At stake is a key role in Washington’s offense. Alfred Morris, who rushed for a franchise single-season record, 1,613 yards last season, returns as the starter. But the Redskins still must select a back to provide a change of pace and receiving threat out of the backfield. That back also must be solid in pass protection.
Helu as a rookie out of Nebraska in 2011 recorded 49 catches for 379 yards and a touchdown, and also rushed for 640 yards and two touchdowns on 151 carries. If healthy, he could fit the bill. But he faces competition from Evan Royster, Keiland Williams and rookies Chris Thompson and Jawan Jamison.
“Helu brings a lot to the table,” Shanahan said. “I’m glad he’s feeling good. He has practiced the last couple of days. He has looked good in practice. … It’s fun to have him out there. Hopefully he keeps on getting better and better, but anytime you have a guy that weighs  pounds, he’s under that 4.5-[second], 40 [yard dash range], has receiving skills and the opportunity to make a big play, it’s good to have him back and a chance to compete.”
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