By Tarik El-Bashir
Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan insists he hasn’t decided how he’s going to handle the team’s trio of running backs.
Evan Royster hopes to make the decision for him.
To win the starting job, though, the second-year Fairfax, Va., native must outperform Roy Helu Jr. and Tim Hightower in the coming weeks.
“We’re all trying to do that,” Royster said. “So it’s going to be tough.”
Indeed, the battle figures to be intense.
Helu has a better burst than the others and has stood out through three days of training camp. Hightower is the most experienced, as well as the best pass catcher and blocker, but he’s still easing his way back into playing shape after a knee injury cut his 2011 season short.
Royster’s strengths? Well, singling out what he does well is as difficult as taking him down.
“Story of my life,” he said with a smile. “I’ve been told my whole life that I wasn’t fast enough. But I made it work to this point, so I’m just going to keep doing what I’ve done the past 15 years.”
Royster gained 328 yards on 56 attempts as a rookie and averaged a team-best 5.9 yards per carry. He started the final two games of the season, racking up 132 yards, against Minnesota, and 113 against Philadelphia.
Asked what he likes about Royster, Shanahan didn’t hesitate.
“You can’t tackle him,” the coach said. “He makes people miss. He knows how to cut [and] and he knows when to cut.”
Royster said his familiarity with Shanahan’s offense has, at times, proven to be an advantage as he adapts to the pro game.
“I guess I’m comfortable with the ‘inside zone’,” he said. “I ran a very similar offense with [Coach Tom] Verbanic at [Westfield High in Chantilly] and again at Penn State. I’ve just been doing it so long, I feel comfortable.”
If there’s one thing Royster wants to improve upon this season, he said, it’s his conditioning.
“The big thing for me at the end of last season was being in game shape,” said the 24-year-old, who was used sparingly until mid-December, when he took over for an ailing Helu. “I wasn’t used to getting out there and taking all those reps, especially in the Philly game when] I came out and I was cramping through my whole body. I wasn’t prepared for what I needed to do.”
“So that’s my focus this year: doing what I need to do be ready for games,” he added.
And, of course, winning the starting job.