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Alfred Morris is Mike Shanahan’s latest 1,000-yard back
The right running mate
Morris, Anderson and Davis, a three-time All-Pro, were sixth-round picks. Olandis Gary went in the fourth round and Reuben Droughns in the third. None of the seven backs to rush for 1,000 yards in a season under Shanahan were taken in the first round, or any higher than No. 41 overall.
Yet there’s a common misconception that Morris wants to dispel.
“Not every running back can come in this system and be successful,” he said. “A lot of people think, ‘Oh, just put anybody in that offense, it’ll work.’ No, Coach Shanahan and [running backs] coach Bobby [Turner], they do a great job of finding backs who fit this system and make it work.”
Shanahan has never taken a running back in the first round, fostering the notion that it doesn’t take anything special to take advantage of his system. But perhaps taking chances in late rounds is part of how it clicks.
“I think one of the reasons that some of these late-round draft picks have had so much success is because they’re righting for jobs and they never had the breakouts in college, they never freelanced on their own, they never were those big-time running backs,” said Schlereth, now an analyst for ESPN. “So when they get into Mike’s system they’re willing to trust and do what their coaches said because they’re not superstars coming in. They don’t have a sense of entitlement.”
Without any notion of entitlement, Morris worked his way up the depth chart during the preseason, capitalizing on injuries to Hightower, Royster and Helu. He was the starter by default, but his impressive performances didn’t catch the coaching staff by surprise.
At pick No. 137, the Redskins hoped they were getting a steal.
“When you see him on tape, he had a lot of running skills. He was on a team that struggled, Florida Atlantic,” offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said in September. “But when he ran the ball, he ran hard. He could put his foot down and he’s a violent cutter.”
Morris just fit. As he said, under Mike Shanahan, “You have to be like a one-cut-and-go type of back, you definitely have to be a tough runner.” Teammates credit Morris for not letting the first would-be tackler bring him down, something that sets him apart even at the pro level.
Instincts, Lichtensteiger said, and knowing when and where to run, make all the difference.
“It takes a running back with good vision. Good vision and good patience,” Williams said. “Not every running back can [do] it. Once the running back gets a grasp of the whole concept, they can really shine in it.”
‘The value of a nasty 2’
In order to shine in Shanahan’s scheme, running backs like Morris and Davis take on a certain burden of physical punishment. It’s not a free-wheeling running game; it’s predicated on grinding down a defense and setting up play-action passes.
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