By Tarik El-Bashir
Alfred Morris showed what he could do against NFL backups in the Redskins’ preseason opener in Buffalo.
On Saturday night, Coach Mike Shanahan wanted to see what the rookie could do against another team’s starters.
The reviews were, well, mixed.
On the Redskins’ first play, Morris displayed the one-cut, north-south style that complements Shanahan’s zone blocking scheme. After a sudden change of direction at the line of scrimmage, Morris burst through the left side and into the secondary for a 21-yard gain. On the next play, Morris ripped off six yards, this time running off the right tackle.
It was a stellar start to an outing that ended rather quietly against a stout Bears’ defense that featured seven-time Pro Bowler Julius Peppers. Morris, a 5 foot 10, 218-pound Florida Atlantic product, finished with 34 yards on 10 carries – four yards fewer than he had after his first five carries.
“I definitely could have played better,” said Morris, who did not play in the second half. “But it could have been a whole lot worse. I feel I did good overall.”
Morris was informed Friday by running backs coach Bobby Turner that he would be getting the first start of his young NFL career. With Tim Hightower still recovering from knee surgery and Roy Helu Jr. sidelined with tendinitis in his Achilles’ tendon, Shanahan wanted to see how Morris would fare against the likes of Peppers, Lance Briggs and Israel Idonije.
“If you’re in the 90, you’re in the competition to make the football team,” Shanahan said when asked if Morris has a legit chance of claiming the Redskins’ No. 1 tailback job. “I don’t have guys out there just to be out there. We started Alfred today, and the reason we started him is that we wanted to see him against a really good defense and against a good unit.”
After gaining 38 yards on the Redskins’ first two series, Morris and the rest of the Redskins’ offense – the patchwork line, in particular – struggled. Morris was limited to minus-4 yards on his next five carries. Peppers and Idonije each thwarted him for no gain, while strong safety Major Wright dropped him for a two-yard loss and linebacker Blake Costanzo stopped him for three-yard setback.
“I don’t think they made an adjustment; it was just a few things we were missing,” Morris said. “They have some great d-linemen and they were getting some penetration in the backfield, and that didn’t help at all.”
Morris also accepted the blame for going out for a pass rather than staying home to block on the play where quarterback Robert Griffin III was sacked and fumbled.
“I had a blitzing safety that I misread,” Morris said.
As Morris acknowledged, his first NFL start could have been more productive. But also managed to remain philosophical about the steep learning curve he’s facing.
“Life is a lesson,” he said. “You live and you learn.”