One week later, in his first time he touched the ball in an NFL game, Banks returned a punt 53 yards to set up the first touchdown as the Redskins seized early momentum in their win Sunday over the Philadelphia Eagles.
“It was a blow. It was kind of disappointing,” Banks said Monday, recalling his solitary afternoon in front of the television set. “But I just kept faith in God, and my father talked to me, and I just waited for my opportunity.”
While there was never any doubt Donovan McNabb would be in the spotlight in his return to Philadelphia, the odds were much less to expect Banks and Ryan Torain to play such significant roles in an early-season NFC East win. Torain began the season on the practice squad and could now be the No. 1 running back, depending on the severity of Clinton Portis‘ groin injury, while Banks returned from a practice squad demotion to show he could be the solution to the team’s long search for a steady and versatile return man.
“It’s out of control. It’s a roller coaster. But at the end of the day, I just knew that hard work was going to pay off, and I just kept pushing through everything from minicamp to training camp to practice squad to being ready for when the coach asked me to come up and help.”
That was Torain speaking, but it have easily been either player.
There are players who spend a year or two on practice squads without ever seeing the light of day of the 53-man roster, but coach Mike Shanahan really means it when he says he actually has a 61-man roster — including the eight players who practice during the week yet technically aren’t members of the team.
Torain looked strong in preseason, but the Redskins already had veteran Larry Johnson pegged to back up Portis. Shanahan, therefore, took a small gamble: He waived Torain, hoping no other team would claim him, and placed him on the practice squad.
The coach was hoping other teams would shy away from Torain because of an injury history that includes a torn ACL. Also, it’s not as if Torain has a stellar resume: His NFL experience consisted of two games with the Shanahan-coached Denver Broncos in 2008, when he was a rookie fifth-round draft pick.
“We knew we’d bring him up” eventually, Shanahan said. “We would have been heartbroken if somebody had took him.”
“Every time I sat up there and checked it out, it just made me hungry,” Torain said. “Made me excited, made me want to work harder because I was right there. I definitely had a good time on the practice squad, but there’s a main goal to be on the roster.”
Soon Johnson was cut, and Torain was promoted on the eve of the Redskins‘ Week 3 game at St. Louis. Torain had seven carries for 46 yards against the Rams, then ran 18 times for 70 yards in the 17-12 win over Philadelphia. He scored on a 12-yard run — set up by Banks‘ big punt return — and got as much praise for bowling over Eagles safety Quintin Mikell as for actually reaching the end zone.
“Man, I’ve got to get some more of those,” said Torain, referring to the hit — not the touchdown. “I got to keep it up.”