Washington Redskins rookie running back Alfred Morris grabbed some of the attention Saturday afternoon at FedEx Field in a preseason game that was supposed to be all about starting quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, the two top picks in April’s NFL draft.
Morris ran for 107 yards and a touchdown on his 14 carries in the Redskins’ 30-17 victory over the Indianapolis Colts, continuing a productive preseason in which he has been the Redskins’ most reliable runner. He has rushed for 195 yards in the three exhibition games, averaging five yards per carry.
“I just went out there and said I was going to do the best . . . with the opportunity I’ve been given,” Morris said. “I definitely think I overall played a lot better than I played last game . . . . I came out today, I made no mental [mistakes]. I ran hard and we won.”
When training camp began, Morris appeared to be mostly an afterthought in the competition for the team’s starting tailback job. The main contenders were supposed to be Tim Hightower, Roy Helu and Evan Royster.
But it has turned out to be a competition with few regular participants, because injuries have plagued Hightower, Helu and Royster. Helu was sidelined Saturday by two sore Achilles tendons. Royster didn’t play because of a sore knee. Hightower played and got his first carries of the preseason, but still is working his way back from last season’s knee injury.
In the meantime, the Redskins continued to hand the ball early and often to Morris, who made his second straight start of the preseason.
“We’ve got a very competitive football team and we’re going to play the best players,” Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan said. “He had a heck of a game today. He played well. . . We’re going to see who’s healthy . . . . He may be the lonely soldier at the end. We might only have one, the way things have been going.”
The sixth-round draft pick from Florida Atlantic was the Redskins’ leading rusher in their preseason opener at Buffalo, running for 54 yards on 15 carries. He followed that with a 10-carry, 34-yard performance when he started the second preseason game at Chicago.
Morris, 5-foot-10 and 218 pounds, was even better Saturday against the Colts. He rushed for 77 yards on 12 first-half carries, scoring the Redskins’ opening touchdown with a two-yard run early in the second quarter. Morris set up his own touchdown with a 17-yard run to give the Redskins a first down at the Indianapolis 2-yard line. He went over the 100-yard mark with a 24-yard dash in the third quarter.
He isn’t a flashy runner. But he has demonstrated throughout the preseason that he can churn out yards consistently.
It isn’t clear where he stands in the team’s still-unresolved battle over who will start the regular season. Royster and Helu are somewhat more proven; they were effective in stretches last season as rookies. Helu took over after Hightower was hurt and was the team’s leading rusher. Royster finished the season with consecutive 100-yard rushing performances. Hightower’s experience could give the coaches greater comfort.
“Me being a rookie, I never thought that I would be getting this many carries or this much action in the offense so soon,” Morris said. “But at the end of the day, it’s the coaches’ decision. I’m going to keep making it hard, making the decision hard on them [about] who’s going to be the starter, and keep going out there and playing hard.”
Shanahan isn’t tipping his hand.
“When you only have one guy that’s really healthy, it’s really hard to say a guy has taken advantage or taken control,” Shanahan said. “We’ve had some guys pretty beat up and they haven’t had a chance to get a lot of reps. Alfred has taken advantage of his reps and he looked good today.”