It had only been a handful of times, but Alfred Morris appeared to have the ritual down to a science.
The air horn sounded to signal the end of practice and the rookie running back ambled off the field on Saturday afternoon at Redskins Park. In his left hand, he clutched his helmet while balancing Tim Hightower’s helmet and shoulder pads in his other hand.
It’s all part of the traditional rookie duties at training camp: pay your dues and earn the respect of the veterans.
But if Morris’s camp performance is any indication, the 23-year-old isn’t in line to be the Washington Redskins’ assistant equipment manager.
Morris rushed for a team-high 54 yards on 15 carries in the preseason-opening, 7-6 win at Buffalo. Hightower was held out with a knee injury and fellow backs Roy Helu and Evan Royster combined for 38 yards.
Morris played in the second quarter and remained in the backfield for the rest of the game.
Hightower’s injury and the nondescript performance of Helu and Royster gives Morris, though a long shot, the opportunity to compete for the starting tailback job.
“He’s got that forward lane, he’s got good instincts,” Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan said after Saturday’s practice. “It’s going to be fun to see him play over the next three games. See if he still plays at a high level, but I anticipate he will.”
The Redskins selected Morris in the sixth round of April’s draft. He finished the season with 1,186 yards as a senior at Florida Atlantic and became the program’s all-time leading rusher.
He was invited to the Senior Bowl and played for the South team coached by Shanahan and members of the Redskins staff.
Entering the draft, Morris was viewed as a running back not quite big enough to grind out carries, but not fast enough to break loose.
Morris described his running style as entrenched in physicality and reliant on moving forward, not side to side.
“I’ve got good balance, I’m bouncing off tackles,” Morris said. “Just that willingness to get every yard possible, each and every down.”
Morris said his objective going into the preseason opener was simply not to make any “mentals.” He stayed mistake free, which he said triggered his performance.
His only qualm was he wished to be a bigger factor in the passing game. Morris didn’t have any catches out of the backfield, something he has shown he can do in camp.
“That would be nice [to get catches], but if I don’t, oh well, it happens,” said Morris. “Whatever I can get, I’ll just make the most of it.”
Last season, Hightower played in just five games before missing the remainder of the season with an ACL injury. Then-rookies Helu and Royster came on strong down the stretch as Helu reached 100 yards in three consecutive games and Royster eclipsed the mark twice.
While he’s not considered a top candidate for the starting job, a strong preseason could put Morris in the mix — if not as the featured back, for a spot on the roster or practice squad.
Morris said the competition inside the team’s running back corps has made the entire group stronger. He said the veterans, especially fullback Darrel Young, have assisted him in learning the offense and grasping the playbook.
Shanahan said Morris on Thursday “sure didn’t hurt himself” and said the remaining games will be a way to evaluate each of the backs. Morris said he had received praise from teammates and had heard Shanahan’s positive postgame comments on his performance.
“Regardless of what happens, win, lose or draw, whether I’m cut or they keep me,” Morris said, “I know at the end of the day as long as I gave it my all, I know I can sleep at night.”