Episcopal graduate fits well in running scheme
ASHBURN -- The starting job is his; the coach said as much Saturday. Tim Hightower, unwanted in Arizona, could blossom in Washington. Already this summer he has ripped off long runs, cut the way the coaches like and played with an edge that suggests a man-on-a-mission story.
Not that it matters to Hightower. He's here to do more than win a job in the preseason.
"I've done what I need to do," he said. "But I never look at it like it's enough."
- John Keim
|Tale of the tape|
|» Linebacker Brian Orakpo is definitely getting off blocks better as he displayed several times in the loss to the Ravens on Thursday night. In each case it resulted in a runner being forced to cut where he didn't want to or a tackle by Orakpo or a sack. He's moving more nimbly in space. On the last play of the first quarter, the Ravens ran a stretch zone to the left, with two blockers headed at Orakpo, including fullback Vonta Leach. But Orakpo sidestepped him and stopped Ricky Williams after 3 yards. On another play, Ray Rice tried to pick him up on the blitz, and Orakpo ran right through him en route to hitting Joe Flacco. He's going to have a big season. Orakpo, that is, not Flacco.|
|» The Ravens game wasn't nose tackle Barry Cofield's best. It seemed as if he was getting a little too high in this game, unlike the first two (and this was coming against a backup center). But the reason Cofield is valuable? He also showed an ability to get off blocks and back into plays, something that did not happen at this position last year. And he did make a nice play when he stayed low, kept his shoulders square to the line and clogged a lane, allowing Oshiomogho Atogwe to make a tackle. He still made positive plays on a day when he had some early negative ones.|
|» The backup offensive line is a mess. Artis Hicks has had bad moments this summer, but he played fine Thursday. Backup center Erik Cook too often gets shoved back; at 6-foot-6, it's tough for him to stay low. Backup tackle Sean Locklear allowed too much pressure and overcompensates for what he thinks is coming. The result? He's easy to set up and then go the other way. Against Baltimore, he whiffed on one block attempt with his head down. On the previous play, Locklear had tried to shoulder block a defender coming between the guard and tackle without moving his feet.|
Hightower was no longer needed in Arizona after the Cardinals drafted another running back, Ryan Williams, to pair with Beanie Wells. So Hightower wouldn't have received much opportunity. In Washington, that's all he's getting.
And the Episcopal graduate is getting it in a system that, thus far, appears suited to his strengths. Hightower is adept at skills needed in a stretch zone running game: pressing the hole, drawing defenders in and making decisive one-plant cuts.
"I didn't know what to expect," Hightower said. "You hear a lot about the offense, and you hear a lot about the system. But you don't know how well the player will work in the system. The biggest surprise is being able to see how well guys fit together. ... I've had some good opportunities and I get a lot of credit, but if you watch the film, it's those guys up front."
No doubt about that. Hightower's two long runs this preseason -- for 58 and 37 yards -- were a direct result of excellent blocking, both at the line and downfield. Guard Chris Chester completed the 58-yarder by getting the safety, and receiver Terrence Austin blocked a defensive back downfield to cap the other one.
But Hightower also has been boom or bust: 14 of his 25 runs this preseason have been for 2 yards or less (including a 1-yard scoring run) and five have been for 10 yards or more.
"If you stick with it and keep going, you're going to have a couple bad ones," offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said. "But then you're going to get a 15-yard one, and then you're going to get a 50-yard one. It's a matter of time if you're committed to the run that you'll end up getting one."
The Redskins like Hightower's pass protection skills, though he is prone to aggressive mistakes in this area, sometimes coming up too fast. He also has lost eight fumbles the past two years.
But it's his running ability that has them excited as much as anything.
"He's the exact type of runner we look for, and when he puts that foot down, he's violent, and when someone's in his way he's trying to run him over," Shanahan said.
Said coach Mike Shanahan: "I like everything about him. He's a good blocker, excellent runner. He's been very productive."
In Arizona, despite starting 36 games in three years, he only had five games with 15 or more carries with a high of 22. Though some scouts have expressed concern about his long-term durability, Hightower wants to prove he can be the full-time guy.
"I always have something to prove," Hightower said. "I feel like I haven't had a chance to play the best football I'm capable of playing. That's what I'm looking forward to."