RICHMOND — Around this time last year, Evan Royster appeared to be on his way to becoming the Washington Redskins‘ starting tailback. Two strong performances (39 total carries for 245 yards) to close out the 2011 season had propelled the former practice squad player up the depth chart.
But for as quickly as Royster’s leap into the starter discussion transpired, the gradual steps back down to the fringes of the Redskins’ offensive game plan — injuries, Alfred Morris‘s emergence, a demotion from his third-down back duties — seemed to play out just as swiftly.
Now, with Morris firmly entrenched as the starter and five running backs logjammed in a race for the likely two backup spots, Royster in some ways sounds as if he’s back in 2011, a sixth-round draft pick looking to fight his way off the bubble and onto the final roster.
“I want to be on this team and I want to play,” Royster said following Thursday’s morning walk-through. “So I’m going to come out here to compete and do my best all the time, no matter what the situation is.”
About two weeks into training camp and with the first preseason game seven days away, the reserve running back situation is a fuzzy one at best. Royster and Roy Helu have taken snaps with the first, second and third string during drills. Also in the mix are Keiland Williams and rookies Jawan Jamison and Chris Thompson.
In Helu, the Redskins possess a strong and fast playmaker who can be a complement to Morris’s strengths — as long as he can shake off the persistent injuries that have previously hampered him. Meantime, Royster is a north-south runner who hits the hole hard but often lacks the explosive ability to break away for long runs. The Westfield High grad opened last season as the Redskins’ third-down back before being replaced by Morris in Week 10.
While Royster admits that lining up on passing downs isn’t his strength, the third-year back believes he can make an impact for the Redskins with his ability to churn out tough runs and convert short third-down situations.
“I think I can be a back just like Alfred. I like the downhill running style,” Royster said. “I’m not so much in the passing game and all that stuff. I was put in to do it last year and I did my absolute best and I’m still trying to get better at that. But I think my bread and butter are those inside zone and outside zone run plays.”
Royster said that a major area of focus for all of the running backs during camp thus far has been pass protection. Along with the greater onus placed on protecting their most valuable asset, Robert Griffin III, the Redskins hope to reduce the 33 sacks they allowed last season. In turn, the running back that displays the best knack for picking up blitzes and blocks could gain an upper hand in the backfield battle.
Whether Royster can muster a generous dose of carries could be key as well. In his career-best close to the 2011 season, he twice eclipsed the 100-yard mark after getting 19 and 20 carries in two games. Last year, the most carries Royster received in a contest was four, making it difficult for him to get into a rhythm.
With reps and carries likely to be at a premium during the preseason among the six backs (seven, if you count fullback Darrel Young), Royster is prepared to make the most of every touch and moment on the field.
“It’s really about not making mistakes. You don’t want to put bad stuff on film. You want to get out here and learn the offense,” Royster said. “You’re not going to get a ton of opportunities because we’ve got a lot of backs. So, going into the preseason, you’ve just got to take advantage of every opportunity you get and don’t take any plays off.”
Have a Redskins question? E-mail Mike Jones at email@example.com with the subject line “Mailbag question” for him to answer it in The Mailbag.
● Friday’s practices will be held at 10 a.m. and 3:20 p.m. If you’re headed to Richmond, check our our guide to training camp for tips on getting autographs, where to park and things to do after the session is over.
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