The folks at Pro Football Weekly are hearing “whispers” that Tim Hightower has the inside track to be the Redskins’ starting running back this year.
They say that Roy Helu Jr will be a “10-15 snap player” due to durability concerns and that Evan Royster “lacks the speed to be anything but a situational back.” We’ll look at those issues in a minute but first let’s look at Hightower as a workhorse back.
Coming into 2010, Hightower had carried the ball 14 or more times in a game six times during his three-year NFL career. In his first three games with the Redskins he carries 25, 20, and 14 times. A shoulder injury limited him to eight carries the next week and kept him out of the next game, which came after the bye week. That was the first game he had missed since coming into the league.
In Week 7 he was on his way to another heavy workload with 17 carries before he suffered a torn ACL that ended his season.
One could conclude that the Cardinals, his previous NFL team, was using him properly, starting him frequently (36 starts in three seasons in Arizona) but limiting his workload. With the caveat that five games is a small sample size and that the shoulder and knee injuries could happen to anyone, it’s possible that the Redskins gave Hightower too heavy a workload.
The same could be true for Helu. He played over 50 snaps in each of the games from Weeks 12-15 and then had to sit out the Week 16 Vikings game with an assortment of ailments. He was limited to 11 snaps in the season finale against the Eagles. It looks like his workload should be limited but dropping him down to 10-15 snaps per game, as PFW suggests,
Royster ran a pedestrian 4.64 in the 40 at the combine (compared to a 4.42 for Helu) so there is solid evidence to back up lack of speed rap. But he did have two 100-yard games in the last three weeks and he averaged 5.9 yards per carry. He many not have been running very fast last year but he was getting somewhere.
What all of this means is that the era of the workhorse running back in Washington is over, at least for now. You have three backs all of whom have some skills but none of whom can be the prime back in the way that John Riggins, Clinton Portis, Stephen Davis, and others were.
The running back committee will emerge either by choice or by circumstances. Last year Kyle and Mike Shanahan basically worked their backs until they couldn’t go any more. That forced other backs into action.
If they try that again this year, they are likely to have the same result. If they plan out a rotation they might have some more backs standing by the end of the year.