Over the next few days we are going to be looking at the 2011 Washington Redskins position by position and player by player. We start today with the running backs.
Can he be the No. 1 back? In his three years in Arizona he consistently averaged about nine carries per game, about half of the workload of a typical NFL workhorse back. If he can manage, say, 15 carries a game and maintain something close to the 4.8-yard average he had last year he will end up with about 1100 yards. Such productivity should make the Redskins very happy.
If he can run like that, it will be hard to keep him off of the field. Hightower is an excellent pass protector and with the Redskins’ offensive line improved but still suspect those skills will be needed in many third down situations.
It appears that the rookie will be Hightower’s primary backup and that might get him about half a dozen touches a game. Helu is an instinctive runner behind the zone-blocking scheme employed by the Redskins. He is patient and he knows where and when to cut to find the hole. And, as we saw when he avoided going out of bounds and cut up the field for a 51-yard gain in the preseason game in Indianapolis, Helu has be ability to make highlight-reel plays.
Blocking may be another matter. It’s just not something that top backs at big-time colleges like Nebraska are asked to do very often. His ability to get playing time may be directly related to his willingness and ability to learn to pick up blitzes. Helu showed some improvement in this area as the preseason progressed.
Last year, he was the team’s leading rusher. Last Thursday, he was carrying the ball in the fourth quarter of the fourth preseason game, trying to make the team. And Torain did beat out rookie Evan Royster based on his performance in that game against the Bucs, according to Mike Shanahan. That he was in the position of having to win his job over a fifth-round draft pick speaks to the lack of trust here is in him due to his propensity to not only get injured but to take a long time to heal when he does.
If you project Torain’s 2010 production over 16 games, you get a nice season, almost 1200 yards. However, you can’t realistically project them over a full season because of the injury factor. He pulled his hamstring during the Week 8 game in Detroit and he wasn’t ready to play until Week 14. In training camp this year he broke his hand early on, had surgery to put some screws in it to repair the fracture. It was supposed to be a seven- to 10-day injury but it was nearly four weeks before he could practice and play again.
Against the Bucs, Torain demonstrated the hard-running style and one-cut ability that made Mike Shanahan sign him in Washington last year after having worked with him in Denver. In addition to being productive, Torain is hard working and a solid citizen. At some point, however, the patience with the injuries will run out. That time is not now but it could be coming soon.
Last year Mike Sellers got virtually all of the snaps at fullback but he was on the field for just about a third of the plays. Young may see more action as the starting fullback this year if the Redskins commit more to the run after rushing on only about 35 percent of their plays last year.
Young has taken advantage of his opportunity to start and has performed well both as a lead blocker and as an open-field runner when catching the occasional swing pass.
It was thought that moving the veteran to tight end at the start of training camp was a kiss of career death for Sellers but it turned out to be a potential job saving move. Other veterans might have pouted when asked to change positions to give a second-year player a chance. But Sellers embraced the reality of the situation, learned tight end and H-back—positions he played when Joe Gibbs was the coach—and made the team thanks in part to tight Chris Cooley’s questionable knee.
Second-year player Keiland Williams was supposed to be the backup fullback but he was released and Sellers was kept due to his ability to play both fullback and tight end. There was a possibility that Williams would be brought back in a few weeks if Cooley’s knee gets better. However, the Lions claimed Williams on waivers, possibly setting up a full 11th season for Sellers in burgundy and gold.