It was barely more than a year ago that Alfred Morris arrived at his first NFL training camp as an unknown rookie, an unheralded sixth-round draft choice from Florida Atlantic who seemed to be little more than an afterthought in a competition for the Washington Redskins’ starting tailback spot that featured Roy Helu Jr., Evan Royster and Tim Hightower.
One year and more than 1,600 rushing yards later, Morris is winding down his second pro preseason as an established starter and standout performer for a reigning division champion. So much has changed.
What hasn’t changed, those around Morris in the Redskins’ locker room say, is Morris himself and his approach to his job.
Anyone fretting that Morris won’t have the same thirst to excel and eagerness to work after so much unexpected success so quickly in his NFL career, other Redskins players say, isn’t well acquainted with Morris.
“That’s something I would be worried about, except that I know him,” Redskins fullback Darrel Young said Monday. “He’s one of the most humble people I think I’ve ever met. So you don’t worry about that with him. You still have that conversation with him, just because that’s something you say to young guys who have success like that. You tell them not to let it go to their head. He says, ‘That’s not going to happen. That’s not me.’ In his case, you know it’s not going to happen.”
Indeed, it is difficult to find anyone quieter and more unassuming in the Redskins’ locker room than Morris. The 1991 Mazda that Morris drove during his eye-catching rookie season has been refurbished thanks to an arrangement worked out by his representatives, he said during training camp. Morris said he had a hectic offseason, making promotional appearances and the like. But he hasn’t become a player who seeks the spotlight. Far from it.
“I’m pretty good at hiding in plain sight,” Morris said last week. “It works out for me. But I had a busy offseason just going here, going there, going everywhere, appearances and that type of stuff. It did change. It was good just to learn how to navigate the offseason. Next offseason, I’m definitely gonna do things a lot differently. I’m definitely gonna have a lot of down time. I feel like I didn’t have a break. But it’s okay. I’m back where I want to be on the field. So I’m having fun.”
Morris said he has learned to live with the attention that has come his way.
“I accepted it,” he said. “With the autographs and being recognized, you can’t really go certain places without that. But like I said, I do a pretty good job of hiding in plain sight. If somebody recognizes me, I’m like, ‘Oh, hey, how are you doing?’ I’m not going to turn away. But at the same time, I’m not going to say, ‘Hey, look at me. Come mess with me.’ ”
He won the Redskins’ starting job during the preseason last year and went on to set a team record with 1,613 rushing yards last season. There is little for him to prove this preseason. There is no need to win a job. He has totaled only eight carries in the first three exhibition games. Now it’s Helu and Royster who are fighting for roster spots as backups, and Hightower is long gone from the organization. Morris even finds himself dispensing advice to the Redskins’ group of rookie runners, including Chris Thompson.
“He’s been quizzing me a lot,” Thompson said Monday. “When we’re out on the practice field, he’ll throw out a play to me, ask me what I’ve got. It’s little, small things like that. He tells me when bad things happen, you’ve just got to let them go and keep going.
“He tells us that a lot of the stuff that we’re dealing with right now, he just went through it last year. So he knows where we’re coming from. And I think that’s the really great thing. He’s just been through all of this so he really knows how to help me and [fellow rookie running back Jawan] Jamison continue to grow and get better.”
Once the regular season arrives, though, Morris will have to revert to something-to-prove mode. He will have to demonstrate that he is not a one-hit wonder. He will have to show that he can come up with a suitable encore performance, even with opposing defenses fully aware of what he can do and having had an entire offseason to try to figure out how to deal with the offensive system the Redskins constructed last season around quarterback Robert Griffin III.
Morris, fittingly, has been mostly in the background this summer while Griffin’s return from knee surgery in January has dominated the Redskins-related news cycles. But Morris said he knows there is much, much more to be done, even with the adjusted mind-set that comes without having a roster spot to secure.
“It’s very different, just from the confidence level,” Morris said. “From the knowledge level, knowing the offense, knowing what they’re trying to get done, that type of deal, just coming in more confident, not worrying about the 53-man roster: ‘Am I gonna make it?’ At the same time, I kind of have an idea, ‘Okay, I am on the 53,’ but my job is still not finished off.”