In the course of a calendar year, Ryan Torain went from being the Redskins’ leading rusher to being an ex-Redskin.
The fall was not really as rapid as it sounds. There were hints that Mike Shanahan was not set on having Torain as the team’s workhorse back when the Redskins drafted Roy Helu and Evan Royster in April. The handwriting on the wall became even clearer shortly after the lockout ended and the Redskins traded away defensive lineman Vonnie Holliday and a conditional draft pick (turned out to be a sixth) for Tim Hightower.
NFL teams do not spend fourth-, fifth- and sixth-round picks and a solid veteran contributor on running backs if they are happy with what they has.
It’s possible that Shanahan and the other coaches liked the way that Torain ran but did not trust him to stay healthy. Torain had a history of injuries when he and Shanahan were with the Broncos in 2008. Then last year it took him five weeks to get back in the lineup after he injured a hamstring.
When he came back, he was anything but consistent. He piled up a career-high172 yards in his first game back against the Bucs but his production tapered off the rest of the year.
This year he broke his hand during a non-contact drill early in training camp. The injury was only supposed to keep him out for seven to 10 days but Torain was only able to play in the last preseason game. That helped cement his reputation as a player who not only got dinged frequently but who took a long time to heal when he did get injured. He did make the roster but he was mostly a spectator except for a 135-yard outburst against the Rams.
Torain averaged 7.1 yards per carry in that game. After that he didn’t average more than 2.5 per carry in any game. His opportunities became fewer and fewer. Before being active and picking up eight yards in four carries against the Vikings he was inactive two games and did not play in two others.
When asked about Torain on Monday, Shanahan strongly hinted what his issue with him was. “The people that are consistent get more opportunities,” he said. “If you’re not consistent, you don’t get as many opportunities to show us what you can do.”
Torain was under contract for 2012 and it would not have cost the Redskins anything to have him go through minicamps and training camp as an insurance policy in cast Tim Hightower either isn’t recovered from his torn ACL or ends up not resigning as an unrestricted free agent. And Torain is far from being an old, high-mileage NFL back. He is 25 and has just over 1000 career carries.
But Shanahan apparently decided that Torain wasn’t worth one of the 80 offseason roster spots. He wanted a roster spot for Aldrick Robinson, ensuring that the Redskins will be able to retain the rights to the rookie wide receiver.
Torain’s highlight moment came in his second game with the team. He trucked Eagles safety Quintin Mikell to set the tone for the “Return of Donovan” game in Philly. If only he had been able to do this consistently.