December 7, 2019

Washington Redskins Position Battles: Running Back

This summer, District Sports Page will be taking a close look at some key position battles leading up to Washington Redskins training camp. In this first installment, we look at the battle for playing time at the running back slot.

by Justin Byram, special to District Sports Page

There is only one thing certain about the Redskins Running Back position: Alfred Morris is the starter. After that, there isn’t much clarity at the position. The battle for playing time at the running back spot should be one of the most interesting position battles of the summer. Although Alfred Morris is the clear starter, the third down and receiving back jobs are wide open (something that is pivotal in Jay Gruden’s offense). Whoever wins these jobs will have a big role in the offense and an increased role from years past.

The Running Backs currently on the Redskins roster include Alfred Morris, Roy Helu, Lache Seastrunk, Evan Royster, Silas Redd, and Chris Thompson. Obviously one of the three roster spots is occupied by Morris, but who will prove worthy of the other two spots?

Roy Helu is the next safest bet. Although Helu is set to count more against the salary cap than starter Alfred Morris, two other running backs would have to shine during pre-season in order to knock Helu off the roster. Helu does provide good pass catching skills (31 catches for 251 yards in ’13) and offers a change of pace to the plodding Morris (62 carries, 274 yards, four TDs), but Helu’s actual results have been average at best throughout his time in Washington. But we’ll assume he retains his spot as the No. 2 back.

With two of the three spots likely filled, it will be a battle between the remaining four for the final position, and the ability to play on special teams may very well provide the difference.

Evan Royster has showed some versatility (the ability to play fullback) however, little else. He carried just twice in 2013 for zero net yards. Silas Redd was a solid back collegiately at Penn State and he is now supposedly 100% for the first time in a while. If fully healthy again, Redd is a dark horse candidate to make the roster and a player to keep your eye on in training camp and pre-season.

The battle for the final roster spot will likely be a battle between Chris Thompson and 2014 draftee Lache Seastrunk. This early in the process you have to like Seastrunk. Unlike Thompson, Seastrunk was drafted by Gruden, which means he is already on the head coach’s radar. Thompson has showed no durability, failing to stay healthy throughout his career, and his production on the field has lacked. At the end of the day, Seastrunk is a more durable version of Thompson, and will likely bump him off the roster.

The team went out of its way to describe Seastrunk as a dynamic kick returner during the draft process, and it’s definitely an are of need for the Skins. Thompson averaged 20.0 yards per kickoff return last season on eight attempts, but his longest was just 28 yards. He also returned seven punts for 36 yards, a measly 5.1 yards per attempt average.

My final prediction is Morris as the starter, Helu as the backup and third down back, and Seastrunk as  a change of pace back and return man, unless he displays enough aptitude during training camp to take on a larger role.

However, with Helu’s cap hit, it could be interesting if Redd shows something during camp and in preseason now that he’s fully heathy.

Running back will be one of the most intense competitions in training camp and throughout pre-season. It will be a fun roster battle to watch, and with a lot of competition a good player will likely be cut or make the practice squad rather than the 53-man roster.

Washington Redskins Game 6 Review: Skins beat Bears in shootout 45-41

So far this season, fans, media and the team itself have been waiting for Robert Griffin III to truly look like the dynamic playmaker they saw last season. Sunday, against the injury-depleted Chicago Bears, Griffin looked his best yet, leading the Washington Redskins to a huge 45-41 win over the Bears, to raise their record to 2-4 before heading off to a showdown with the Broncos in Denver next weekend.

Griffin threw for 298 yards and two touchdowns on 18-of-29 passing, but he looked his best all season running with the ball, carrying 11 times for 84 yards, much from the read-option formation. On the second play from scrimmage, Griffin called his own number and burst around right end for 23 yards and continued to run the keeper all day long. That first drive ended up with a 38-yard Kai Forbath field goal, but it set the precedent for what the Skins offense would do all afternoon.

The Bears took advantage of a short field after a 37-yard Sav Rocca punt and answered with 47-yard field goal by Robbie Gould. On the ensuing possession, Griffin made on of his few mistakes on the day, lobbing a pass toward Leonard Hankerson on the right sideline that was picked off by Charles Tillman and returned to the Skins 10-yard line. It took the Bears just two plays to score, with Matt Forte scoring the first of his three touchdowns of the day on a two-yard plunge.

But the Redskins took the kickoff and marched down the field, going 80 yards on 13 plays, capped by Roy Helu, Jr.’s 14-yard scoring run from off-tackle right, which was exquisitely blocked up front to make it 10-10 just after the start of the second quarter.

On the next play from scrimmage, Reed Doughty broke up a Jay Cutler pass intended for Alshon Jeffery, and the ball hung up for Brian Orakpo to gather in and rumble 29 yards for the first pick-six of his career.

Two possessions later, Bears QB Jay Cutler was sacked by Chris Baker — first of Baker’s NFL career — and came up lame. He was helped off the field and into the Bears locker, where it was announced that he sustained a groin injury and would not return. Josh McCown replaced Cutler and created difficulty right off the bat with his mobility, as his first play was an 11-yard scramble.

Later in the quarter, another special teams breakdown led to a Bears touchdown. Rocca punted to the left sideline to pen return specialist Devin Hester in. Unfortunately, Hester broke back to the other side of the field, broke containment, and sprinted up the right sideline untouched for an 81-yard TD to tie the game at 17.

As was the theme of the day though, the Skins offense went right back to work, this time going 74 yards on 11 plays, culminated by Griffin’s three-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Reed in the right corner of the end zone on a fade pattern. Reed had a 15-yard catch earlier in the drive and ended up with 9 catches for 134 for the day, both career highs. The Skins held a 24-17 halftime lead, but things got even crazier in the second half.

The Bears first drive resulted in a missed field goal, but on their second possession Forte burst through the line and went 50 yards for a touchdown to tie it back up. But Griffin led the Skins right back, driving 83 yards on eight plays, including a 30-yard completion to Aldrick Robinson, before Helu carried three yards to put the Skins back up 31-24.

Chicago used a 28-yard completion from McCown to Jeffery, then a 15-yard personal foul on Brandon Meriweather, to get in position for Forte to carry six yards for his third TD of the day to tie it at 31.

This time, the Redskins used a quick strike. On second-and-nine, Griffin had Josh Morgan streaking wipe open on a 20-yard crossing route, but instead heaved it 45 yards to Robinson, who made the catch between Tillman and safety Chris Conte, who fell after bumping Robinson trying to get into position. Regardless, the longest pass of the season resulted in a Redskins touchdown and 38-31 lead.

The Bears next drive stalled at the Washington 31, after Orakpo and David Amerson harassed McCown on second and third downs respectively and the Bears settled for a 49-yard Gould field goal. Following a Skins three-and-out, Chicago went back to work. McCown hit Brandon Marshall for the receiver’s biggest gain of the day, a 44-yard catch and run off a slant route, and after a touchdown pass was nullified by an illegal formation penalty, the Bears made the next one stick, as McCown connected with tight end Marcellus Bennett for a seven-yard score, giving the Bears their first lead since the first quarter.

The Redskins took over with 3:57 to play at their own 20-yard line. Griffin found Reed for 26 yards on the first play of the drive. Later, he connected three times with Pierre Garcon for gains of seven, nine and six yards. On third-and-4 from Chicago’s 13, Griffin hit Reed for a 10-yard completion and on first down, Helu broke it up inside for his third touchdown strike of the day, to provide the 45-41 margin of victory.

Washington Redskins Week 4 Review: Skins outlast Raiders 24-14

Entering play Sunday, having traveled across three time zones and staring 0-4 in the face with their bye week coming up, the Washington Redskins faced as much of a “must-win” situation as a team could against the Oakland Raiders. When they fell behind by two touchdowns in the first quarter, you couldn’t help but think, “Oh, no. Here we go again.”

But the Redskins rebounded from the terrible start to get within four points at halftime, then imposed their will a little bit on the terrible Raiders, winning 24-14 to avoid the ignominy of being winless going into their bye week.

Robert Griffin III still did not look much like his old self, but did enough, passing for 227 yards, one touchdown and — most importantly — no interceptions as Washington (1-3) won for the first time this season.

Even better, the Giants, Eagles and Cowboys all lost in Week 4 as well, keeping the worst division in football right now a tight race.

Things didn’t get off on the good foot. After their second straight three-and-out to start the game, Sav Rocca’s punt was blocked by Rashad Jennings and recovered by Jeremy Stewart in the end zone to give Oakland a quick 7-0 lead.

The Raiders extended that lead to 14-0 as a 10-play, 81 yard drive culminated in an 18-yard strike from Matt Flynn, playing for the injured Tyrelle Prior, to Mychal Rivera, who was wide open in a seam.

But that ended Oakland’s scoring for the day.

After the ensuing kickoff, the Skins marched on an 11-play, 73-yard drive which stalled at the eight yard line, where John Potter made good for a 25-yard field goal.

On the next series, Flynn tried to find Denarius Moore on a slant route, but cornerback David Amerson jumped the route, stepped in front of Moore for the pick, and raced 45 yards for his first NFL interception and touchdown to cut the score to 14-10.

Finally playing with a lead, the Redskins defense did some good things in the second half against Flynn and the Raiders offense. They applied a lot of pressure on the backup quarterback, disrupting him on just about every throw.

But the Skins offense still couldn’t get into a good rhythm. On their second possession of the half, Griffin found backup tight end Logan Paulsen for a short pass the Paulsen turned into a 33 yard gain while breaking tackles left and right. Unfortunately, he was double-teamed at the end and stripped of the ball to end the series.

But the next time the Skins had the ball they ground out an eight-play, 58 yard drive that ended with a five-yard touchdown pass to Pierre Garcon on a slant play that upped the Redskins lead to 17-14.

The bad news on the drive was that Alfred Morris got banged up and left the game with a injury in his rib cage. After the game, head coach Mike Shanahan didn’t think it was broken, but Morris would be reevaluated when the team returns to D.C.

Washington capped the scoring a few series later. Ryan Kerrigan sacked Flynn and forced a fumble that gave the Skins the ball on the Oakland 42. Griffin escaped containment and connected on a check-down pass to Roy Helu, Jr. for 28 yards, then on the next play Helu burst up the middle untouched for a 14-yard touchdown run.

Flynn led the Raiders on one last chance to get back into the game, but he fumbled attempting a quarterback sneak on fourth-and-one and lost the ball, sealing the Redskins’ first win of the season.

SKINS NOTES: Morris finished with 71 yards on 16 carries before leaving the game. Helu ran 13 times for 41 yards.

Garcon caught six balls for 59 yards. Leonard Hankerson grabbed four catches for 49 yards.

Kerrigan, Brian Orakpo and Barry Cofield all finished with two sacks apiece.

Skins waltz past Bills in third preseason tilt


With both Robert Griffin III and Kirk Cousins on the sidelines for the Washington Redskins’ third preseason game, the quarterbacking duties fell to the two men completing for the third string job: veteran Rex Grossman and newcomer Pat White. Both players did their job Saturday afternoon, leading the Skins (3-0) to a 30-7 win over the Buffalo Bills (2-1) before a half-empty FedEx Field in Landover, MD.

Grossman completed 11-of-21 pass attempts for 171 yards and a touchdown on the first drive of the day, a seven-yard strike to Pierre Garcon that appeared to come on an audible off a running play.

“I felt like I was going to get an obvious second-window throw, I just had to maneuver my arm a little bit to get it around ‘cause normally he’s right where we completed it,” Grossman explained afterward. “When [the defender] was up at the line, I knew there was going to be a blitzer, drop out of leverage kind of, so I faked the run a little bit just to allow Pierre to get open there and get the pass to him.”

White went 7-for-14 for 96 yards and added 26 yards on the ground and a running touchdown, a 14 yard scamper around the left end as he followed his fullback, Darrel Young, on a designed carry all the way to the goal line.

“I’m just excited to have an opportunity to get on the field and compete – whether it’s one rep or 20 reps,” White said after the game. “I’m happy to have this opportunity.”

Head coach Mike Shanahan was impressed with his signal-callers. “I thought they both played very well. Anytime you rotate guys in there like we did, for them to play at the level they did, I was impressed with that.”

Roy Helu, Jr. led the Skins in rushing, with 70 yards on 13 carries. Keiland Wiliams, the fourth-year running back, added 52 yards on eight carries, including a one yard touchdown in the fourth quarter to cap the scoring. Chris Thompson, a rookie from Florida State, carried 15 times for 44 yards.

Eleven Skins receivers caught passes, led by Aldrick Robinson, with four catches for 61 yards.

The Skins were pretty much able to move the ball at will against the Bills defense.

“I think it boosts everyone’s confidence,” Grossman said about the Skins offense’s performance. “It’s sports, you know, momentum means everything. I don’t understand it, but it’s in every sport. You know, you start to have success, and it breeds more success, and that’s definitely true in football. Whether you’re running the ball and it opens up play-action, and you kind of get into some rhythm, and I just think everybody feels it, and everyone feeds off each other.”

According to Shanahan, DB/PR Richard Crawford suffered at least damage to the LCL in his left knee, and perhaps damage to the ACL as well, pronouncing the player “gone for the year” in his post-game press conference.

Redskins open 2013 preseason with win over Titans


More notable for players that didn’t play than did, the Washington Redskins — at least those in camp trying to win positions or make the roster — opened their preseason play with a 22-21 win over the Tennessee Titans at LP Field in Nashville.

The Skins held most of their starters on the sidelines, including rehabbing QB Robert Griffin III and second-year RB Alfred Morris. The ones that suited up, though, gave head coach Mike Shanahan an irrelevant preseason win to kick off the four-game campaign before things get going for real — a Sept. 9 Monday night regular season opener against division rival Philadelphia Eagles.

Backup and second-year QB Kirk Cousins performed admirably in his two series of play, finishing the night 6-for-7 for 52 yards with a three-yard touchdown to TE Fred Davis, returning from his Achilles injury of last season. On the play, Cousins faked a pitch to RB Roy Helu, Jr. to the left, then rolled right and found Davis in front of the goal post for the relatively easy score.

The touchdown capped the second drive of the game for the Skins. Cousins went 4-for-4 on the drive with 36 yards The TD pass ended Cousins’ performance for the evening, but the young signal caller got good work in with the offense and looked comfortable leading the Skins while he was under center.

Davis, playing in his first game since surgery to repair the Achilles injury, caught two balls for 14 yards with the first team offense.

Helu, looking to make an impact as a third down back and capable backup to Morris, ran for 57 yards on 13 carries behind a somewhat make-shift line that did not include LT Trent Williams, just one of eight Skins starters that were held out of the preseason opener.

Veteran backup QB Rex Grossman took over for Cousins and had a mixed bag of success (10-for-21, 119 yds, 1 TD, 0 Int.), but did hit Leonard Hankerson for an eight-yard touchdown strike that tied the game at 14 just before the end of the first half. Hankerson, still trying to establish himself as a reliable target in the offense, made four catches for 38 yards.

Ten Skins receivers in all made receptions on the evening.

Third string QB Pat White made the best of a late-game opportunity, leading the Skins on a 12-play, 80-yard drive, culminating in White’s nine-yard touchdown run and subsequent two-point conversion to reserve TE Emmanuel Ogbuehi to provide the difference in the final score.

Defensive leader Brian Orakpo returned to the field after missing much of 2012 with a torn pectoral injury, and the veteran looked like he hadn’t missed a day at all. He put pressure on Titans QB Jake Locker on several occasions, including registering a sack on Tennessee’s third possession of the game, sprinting past Titans’ LT Michael Roos and catching up with Locker on a strong outside rush.

Because of multiple injuries to veteran defensive backs, three rookie draft picks — Safties Baccari Rambo and Phillip Thomas and CB David Amerson — started for the Skins to mixed results. Amerson almost had an interception and recorded three tackles, but Rambo was juked by Titans RB Chris Johnson en route to a 58-yard touchdown run, was similarly faked by Titans backup RB Shonn Green for a 19-yard score, and pushed Green after the run to draw a 15-yard penalty.

Thomas, a fourth-round pick from Fresno state, left the game in the first quarter after suffering a right shoulder and left foot injury on the same play. Replays showed Thomas’ foot got caught underneath the ball carrier on the tackle and the team announced he was held from the rest of the game due to the foot injury.

NOTES: In addition to Griffin, Morris and Williams, the Skins also played without WR Pierre Garcon, DBs DeAngelo Hall, Brandon Merriweather and Josh Wilson, and NT Barry Cofield.

Redskins Rewind: Spiral continues as losing streak reaches four

The look on Leonard Hankerson’s face says all need be said about loss to Niners. (photo by Brian Murphy)

The Washington Redskins 19-11 loss yesterday to the San Francisco 49ers looked an awful lot like the previous three games; the Skins were mostly dominated during the competitive portion of the game and gained some yards during garbage time in the fourth quarter.  For the fourth straight week, the Skins are left to evaluate a performance where the offense looked completely ineffective, the defense more and more suspect, and the special teams, well, unspecial.

The Redskins fell to 3-5 this season, now last in the NFC East, while San Francisco increased their NFC West-leading record to 7-1 and earned their first six-game winning streak since 1997. [Read more…]

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