Redskins Position Review: Running backs

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Positional review: Running backs

Starters: Alfred Morris, Darrel Young

Backups: Evan Royster, Keiland Williams

By the numbers: In the first nine games, Morris gained 793 yards on 164 carries for 4.8 yards per carry. In the final seven games he gained 820 yards on 171 carries - also 4.8 yards per run. However, in December he averaged 5.0 yards per carry and scored seven touchdowns. So much for a rookie wall.

Analysis: Yes, Morris was helped by the zone read option game and Robert Griffin III's presence. There's no doubt that it helped create better running lanes and had him running through arm tackles at the line instead of through a linebacker. All of that is true. But that doesn't mean Morris wasn't effective or that he didn't help the offense with how he ran.

You want to know why Kirk Cousins played so well vs. Cleveland? Because the Browns were intent on not letting Morris beat them, overselling to stop the run. The play-action and bootleg throws then killed them.

Morris was a fantastic story, but he quickly showed that he was a tough runner. There were no zone read plays in the preseason, but Morris did run over defenders. He trucked Saints linebacker David Hawthorne at the 1-yard line en route to a TD in the season opener. His body lean consistently led to him falling forward for extra yards.

But Morris deserves a lot of credit for his vision, the way he set up blocks and his brains. There were a number of examples of Morris getting on the heels of his linemen, then cutting back. He routinely forced linebackers to commit to that hole, and when they would try to scrape back, a blocker was in position to seal the opening.

His vision was helped by running behind a weak line at Florida Atlantic. It forced him to see defenders quickly and then make a cut.

But Morris is not a burner, and that's a reason his longest run of the season was only 39 yards. He had nine games where his longest run was less than 20 yards. Viewed another way: Morris was remarkably consistent given that he didn't have a ton of long runs.

Young did an excellent job as a blocker, though he wasn't always needed. He's a good weapon out of the backfield, but if you want an explosive offense, the fullback will be a bit player when it comes to running or catching the ball. Young has good speed, and in this offense defenders lost sight of him because they had to worry about the back and Griffin.

Royster was adequate and improved in pass protection. He never carried more than four times in a game, so it was tough for him to ever get in a rhythm.

Offseason needs: Get Roy Helu back healthy. The Redskins still need to add more speed to the backfield. They've added it elsewhere, why not here? It would enable them to run different plays -- like the inverted veer/jet read that San Francisco ran with LaMichael James for a touchdown vs. Atlanta on Sunday. Can Helu be that guy? He needs to prove he's durable, but he was timed in the 40-yard dash at 4.43 seconds at the 2011 combine, so Helu's speed is more than adequate (James ran the 40 in 4.37 seconds). Re-signing Young, a restricted free agent, also would be wise.

jkeim@washingtonexaminer.com

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