Back in the state in which he grew up and played college football, Alfred Morris found a comfort zone quickly.
"It was like a welcome home," the Florida Atlantic product said.
But his comfort zone had little to do with the location of the Washington Redskins' game at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Morris is looking more at home as an every-down NFL running back as the weeks pass. The rookie recorded his first 100-yard game Sunday, but it could be the first of many if the Redskins keep relying on Morris to be a workhorse.
"If he's not running like he's running, this offense won't go. That's a known fact," wide receiver Santana Moss said. "When we couldn't run the ball last year early in the year, everyone was keying the pass. ... He's a big reason we're doing what we're doing."
Early in the preseason, the sixth-round pick was behind the likes of Roy Helu Jr., Evan Royster and Tim Hightower in the running back rotation. Lasting that long in the draft, coach Mike Shanahan conceded there were holes in Morris' game, specifically in pass protection and receiving.
But Morris wasted no time taking advantage of injuries to move to the front of the class.
"You could see with the first preseason game that he made some runs that a lot of people can't make," Shanahan said. "But you're still not sure how he's going to handle himself in game situations. The more preseason games he played, the more you could see that he was ready for the first game of the regular season."
Earning the nod for Week 1, Morris became the feature back. His 82 carries are tied for third in the NFL. His four touchdowns are tied for the league lead, with Robert Griffin III and the Houston Texans' Arian Foster. His 376 yards are good for fifth.
"Alfred has been doing what he's been doing week in and week out," left tackle Trent Williams said. "He runs hard, he's hard to tackle, gets a lot of yards after contact. He's what we need."
And it's not just the production, though the Redskins will take that. But the way Morris runs is perfect for this offense: As fullback Darrel Young pointed out, the first would-be tackler hardly ever brings Morris down.
"That's just how he is, though. Every week, he runs incredibly hard. Every play, he runs incredibly hard," tight end Logan Paulsen said. "He's just such a natural runner. It's awesome to watch him run."
His 39-yard touchdown run Sunday, part of a 113-yard performance, was an example of Morris' abilities. Once Paulsen sprang him with a block on linebacker Lavonte David, Morris stiff-armed cornerback Eric Wright and evaded safety Ronde Barber on his way to the end zone.
"Without the O-linemen, all the big guys in front of me blocking, I wouldn't be able to gain a yard," an appreciative Morris said. "They definitely opened up a hole. They left me with one guy. Like my college coach always tells me: 'B.Y.O.B, bring your own block,' and it was me and him, and I made him miss and was able to take it to the house."
"I really wasn't worried about it. I tell people all the time, I just run, which is what I do," Morris said. "I just do all I can to help my team win."
Shanahan praised the 23-year-old's attitude in addition to his talents. Of course, there are things for Morris to work on, such as positioning in the backfield.
Morris understands he needs to track better, finding running lanes and in pass protection.
"That comes with time. We talk about any first-year player, and there's going to be growing pains," Shanahan said. "You can do that when a guy is playing very well like he is. He learns every time he goes out there with his tracks, his protection. He doesn't make the same mistake twice."
And while he may sometimes choosing the wrong lane or not taking advantage of blocks, Morris' ability to run through and around opponents is opening up a lot for the Redskins' offense.
"The guy runs downhill, he knows how to get through a crack, make the secondary miss and I'm glad that guy's on my team," center Will Montgomery said. "When guys run like that, they tend to think that the O-line is blocking a little better, whether we are or not. We just want to get a hat for a hat and let him work. He's a special back."
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