Backfield depth shaping up as Redskins' strength
The Sports Xchange
NFL Team Report - Washington Redskins - INSIDE SLANT
Alfred Morris is entrenched as the Washington Redskins' starter. So it was no surprise that Morris jump-started the Redskins' 23-6 preseason-opening victory over New England on Aug. 7 by carrying five times for 27 yards on the initial drive that ended with a field goal.
But what was more gratifying for new coach Jay Gruden and Co. was that the six backs competing for playing time behind Morris combined to rush for 140 yards on 37 carries.
"Our offensive line did a good job blocking, obviously," said former Cincinnati offensive coordinator Gruden, who has retained the zone running game that he inherited from predecessor Mike Shanahan. "Both our fullbacks in the game did a nice job. (So did) the receivers blocking downfield. Instead of those three-yard gains, you're getting four or five yards. It was good to see some cutback runs. It opened up some play-action. Overall, it was a good performance by everybody."
Roy Helu, the third-down back in 2013, gained 37 yards on seven touches -- including 16-yard catch-and-run -- before suffering a mild sprained knee which could keep him out of the Aug. 18 game with Cleveland. Fellow fourth-year back Evan Royster contributed 29 yards on eight touches. Chris Thompson, who didn't play on offense during his injury-curtailed rookie season of 2013, produced 17 yards on six touches before exiting after twisting his ankle, which could prevent him from playing against the Browns.
"Roy had some good runs and a good catch, and some runs after his catches," Gruden said. "He's done some good things."
But it was rookies Lache Seastrunk, a sixth-round pick, and Silas Redd, who went undrafted, who made the biggest impressions. The swift Seastrunk ran 12 times for 63 yards including a 21-yard burst. The more physical Redd produced the same yardage on 11 touches, running nine times for 45 yards and adding 18 yards on two catches.
"I was impressed with both of them," said Gruden, while expressing concern that Seastrunk's high pad level causes him to take too many big hits. "Redd's a good power runner. He's got great vision. He's shown (that) in practice so far and we want to see him carry it over into the game and it did. Lache is obviously known for his big play ability. (He) had a couple splash runs, which was good to see."
Redd, who played at Penn State and then Southern Cal, credited the backup offensive linemen for opening holes, but added, "Once we got to that second level, we were able to make some things happen."
Thompson said that having a year of NFL experience, including watching film, has made a big difference.
"I'm not really going out there and thinking about what I'm doing," said the speedy Thompson, whose 5-foot-7 size raises questions about his ability to pass-block. "It's second nature to me now so it's a whole lot easier. I feel like I belong."
So does Seastrunk, who played at Baylor with Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III.
"When (the coaches) called my name and told me to go in ... I felt like, 'Oh man, I'm here and this is my time to shine,' " he said.
Gruden's Bengals offenses emphasized the pass the past three years, but he envisions a more balanced attack in Washington despite the talented Griffin throwing to big-time receivers Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson and promising tight end Jordan Reed.
"We'd like to have thunder (Morris) and lightning, so to speak, or just have a couple thunders - it doesn't matter," Gruden said. "Alfred's going to get his bulk of carries, (but) he's going to need to have a rest every now and then, and whoever that guy is - whether it's Roy, whether it's Silas, whether it's Lache, whether it's Chris - that's to be determined. To find the second or third back is going to be important for us."
NFL Team Report - Washington Redskins - NOTES, QUOTES
--Washington's defense finally got its biggest offseason addition on the field on Aug. 9 as end Jason Hatcher was activated from the physically unable to perform list following arthroscopic surgery on his left knee in June.
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