Alfred Morris had a good reason to be upbeat inside Soldier Field’s visitor’s locker room nine days ago, but he focused elsewhere.
He started the Washington Redskins‘ second preseason game, an opportunity beyond his most optimistic expectations. Then, on the first play, he bulled through Chicago Bears linebacker Lance Briggs, a seven-time Pro Bowler, on a 21-yard carry. For Morris, a sixth-round rookie running back out of Florida Atlantic, it was a giant step toward earning a roster spot.
Afterward, though, Morris lamented a failed blitz pick-up that resulted in a sack of quarterback Robert Griffin III and a lost fumble. His attempt to show coaches he could handle all of a running back’s responsibilities was unsatisfactory.
That’s why he was talking a mile a minute Saturday night with a grin no one could erase. Not only did he run for 107 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries against the Indianapolis Colts in his second straight start, he also handled his pass protections responsibilities with aplomb.
“Today was just an all-around game,” Morris said. “I was able to run. I still got a screen pass, and I was able to get involved in pass protection. It was definitely a good game to show the coaches I can do this.”
Morris has positioned himself to make the 53-man roster when final cuts are determined Friday, and there’s a strong chance he will be asked to make a significant contribution during the regular season.
Incumbent running backs Tim Hightower (left knee), Evan Royster (right knee) and Roy Helu Jr. (Achilles tendinitis) have missed preseason games, which created a grand opportunity for Morris. Royster and Helu missed Saturday’s 30-17 win, and their status for the regular-season opener at New Orleans on Sept. 9 is uncertain.
Coach Mike Shanahan won’t determine playing time until the other backs have more time to heal. However, Morris is a factor.
“He had a heck of a game,” Shanahan said. “He may be the lonely solider at the end. We might only have one [running back] with the way things have been going, but he did play well.”
That didn’t surprise members of the Redskins defense who have been practicing against him this summer.
“Obviously, we’re not in live situations, but he has good vision, good burst, runs with good pad level and power,” linebacker London Fletcher said. “He seems pretty suited for this style of offense.”
Morris began his 24-yard run by going right behind the offensive line as it moved that direction in unison. Morris patiently waited for left guard Maurice Hurt and left tackle Trent Williams to clear a backside cutback lane. Williams blocked Colts star linebacker Dwight Freeney into overrunning the play, and Morris sharply cut upfield.
Morris‘ 18-yard carry helped set up the Redskins‘ second touchdown. He raced around the left edge behind Williams’ block of a linebacker and tight end Fred Davis’ inside seal of a defensive end. Receiver Pierre Garcon blocked a safety downfield, and Morris did the rest. He never slowed on his nifty juke of a defender near the sideline.
“It just comes natural to me,” Morris said after the game. “I’ve always been a one-cut-get-north-and-south type of back. I was able to play in both of the first two preseason games, which is a lot sooner than I thought. That has allowed me to get more comfortable with our offense. Going out there today was like icing on the cake.”
Morris was as pleased by his pass blocking as he was by his runs. On Griffin’s deep overthrow of receiver Leonard Hankerson, Morris stuffed a charging linebacker in the hole after the linebacker beat fullback Dorson Boyce.
“Even though it’s not my man, per se, coach always says never pass up color,” Morris said. “When I’m looking for my read, I’m going through my progression. Now, oh, I see color. I’m hitting it. There was a number of times I got to do that today.”
Morris was determined to improve in pass protection after his breakdown against Chicago, and he was sharper making split-second decisions against Indianapolis.
“We have to be able to read our book — as coach likes to call it — real fast and get out on your route,” he said. “But if I were to pass up that color, he might get a sack on the quarterback and we won’t have a play. If I’m free, I get out either a check down or the flat or a wheel or whatever the route is. I’m getting more comfortable with it all.”