RICHMOND – When Roy Helu Jr. recognized a linebacker blitzing inside during the Redskins’ 11-on-11 drills Saturday afternoon, he squared his shoulders, lowered his body and initiated the block. His pad level was lower than the linebacker’s, so he stoned the linebacker in the hole, protecting quarterback Kirk Cousins.
That’s exactly how he will earn the role of third-down running back this summer. More importantly, he was healthy enough to be on the field for the opportunity.
“To be honest, playing healthy is amazing,” Helu said. He is relishing that fact after missing all but three games last season with a soft tissue injury in his left foot near his big toe.
Helu had surgery in the winter and now feels fully healthy. He proved during spring practices that he can explosively sprint and cut on his left foot. Now he must demonstrate the promise he showed during his rookie season in 2011, when he rushed for at least 100 yards in three consecutive games and had 49 receptions.
“Now it is a great opportunity for him to take advantage of all these reps he will get here over these four preseason games,” coach Mike Shanahan said. “I look forward to him getting better every practice, get him back into football shape and getting back to where he was a short time ago.”
Helu is a quality third-down back because of his good hands, his ability to gain yards after the catch and his adequate pass blocking. He improved his blitz recognition as his rookie season progressed. Saturday’s performance in team drills was an auspicious sign.
His speed and elusiveness on the second level set him apart from first-string running back Alfred Morris. He also could join Morris and quarterback Robert Griffin III in an extremely potent triple option.
It’s too early for him, though, to contemplate how dynamic that trio might be. The more immediate concern of earning a roster spot is his focus.
“It’s interesting when you look at the certain skill sets that are highlighted between us there,” he said. “I just leave it at that, to be honest, because there’s so much unknown that happens there. All it is is interesting—for now.”