A little speed goes a long way

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As the fastest kid in his Denton, Texas, neighborhood, Anthony Alridge was always challenged, even by some little smart alecks riding bicycles.

“And I beat ‘em,” he said.

The stakes are higher now for Alridge, who is trying to earn a spot on the Washington Redskins as a running back in a crowded backfield. But he still might be the fastest kid in the neighborhood.

“I wouldn’t say that I’m not,” he said.

Any conversation about Alridge starts with his speed. A high school sprint star, he ran a 4.36 in the 40-yard dash at the NFL combine in 2008. But he reportedly clocked a 4.22 at his personal workout at the University of Houston, where he earned the nickname “Quick Six” for his sudden - and long - touchdowns. After switching from wide receiver as a junior, Alridge gained 959 yards on 95 carries, a national-best 10.1 average. He ran for 1,597 yards as a senior.

“When he gets upfield, you start talking about the extra point,” said Baylor coach Art Briles, who coached Alridge at Houston. “If he breaks the line of scrimmage clean, it’s over.”

Asked whether he ever has been caught from behind, Alridge, who spent last season on Denver’s injured reserve, flashed a look of disbelief.

“No,” he said. “Never will, no matter where I’m at. I’d be so hurt if I got caught from behind. It’d be like I lost a step.”

Yet Alridge wasn’t drafted, mainly because he stands 5-foot-9 and weighs 175 pounds. The NFL generally accepts little guys in small doses.

“People don’t know how to measure your heart, your toughness,” he said. “I was never injured in college. The first time I got hurt was last year. I felt like I could have come back from it, but things happen for a reason. It made me hungrier. It made me want to work harder to prove people wrong for not drafting me.”

Said Briles: “He’s fearless. … I don’t think he’s ever been denied. He plays with so much passion. He’s a little guy that plays big. That’s the thing that caught my eye. If there’s a wall, he’s not gonna find a way to go around it, he’s gonna go through it.”

Exceptionally fast players are sometimes typecast as soft or one-dimensional. Occasionally, they are. The Redskins in 2003 had one of the speediest runners in the league, Trung Canidate - a former first-round pick of the St. Louis Rams. He was fast but little else. He played one year for Washington and was out of football.

Briles said that’s not Alridge.

“If he’s got to fight for yards, he’ll fight for yards,” he said. But, he added, “It’s hard to tackle what you can’t touch.”

After signing with Denver as a free agent last year, Alridge competed with the Broncos’ usual slew of running backs. In the final preseason game, he ran for 107 yards before suffering a Lisfranc sprain in his left foot and was lost for the season.

After Mike Shanahan was fired as coach, the new regime cut Alridge. But Shanahan recommended him to the Redskins. The Minnesota Vikings also were interested, but Washington had dibs on Alridge because it had a worse record last season.

Alridge said the Redskins were his first choice because he admires their Pro Bowl back.

“I like Clinton Portis,” he said. “CP is one of my favorite players. It doesn’t help my chances, but I can learn a lot from him. He’s the best blocking back in the game. Period. Hands down.”

Alridge is an old-fashioned scatback, a third-down back or “situational player” in today’s NFL. The label he prefers is “game-changer.”

He also returns kicks, so he will get a good look in the preseason, and his value will increase if he’s able to make plays returning punts. The Redskins tied for 22nd in punt returns, and Antwaan Randle El’s 21 fair catches led the league.

Although Alridge caught a lot of passes in college, his catching skills still needs work.

“Very good speed, very explosive,” Redskins coach Jim Zorn said. “His hands are improving as well. That’s the thing I would hope that happened during these [workouts]. He can catch the ball out of the backfield, and he can obviously catch punts and kickoffs. He’s definitely improving. Even though he’s undersized, he has talent.”

Running backs coach Stump Mitchell said he is looking forward to watching Alridge during the preseason “to see if he can give us that other dimension, that if we get him in the open, he can take it the distance.”

Alridge already knows the answer to that.

“There’s a chance for me to go the distance every time I touch the ball,” he said.

Note - The Redskins, who were taken bowling by Zorn instead of practicing Tuesday, announced the hiring of Bill Baker as an area scout. Baker has nearly two decades of NFL experience, including six years with Miami (2003-08) and nine seasons with Atlanta (1990-98). With the Falcons, he worked with Redskins director of player personnel Scott Campbell.

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