Mike Shanahan has decided on who will start at running back for the Washington Redskins in their season opener against New Orleans on Sept. 9, but he intends to keep it a secret until gameday.
On thing is certain: It won't be Tim Hightower, who coaches considered the most complete running back entering training camp. Hightower was released during Friday's final cuts.
"A guy like Tim, I think the world of," Shanahan said Saturday afternoon. "He might be back [with us] sometime this year, but you've got to cut down. You've got to make the decision that you think is best for your football team. We went with three running backs and a fullback, but it was a tough decision."
Hightower is not a candidate to be re-signed and placed on injured reserve under the new rules because he does not have a six-to-eight week injury, Shanahan said. His return from left knee ACL reconstruction surgery continues, but not with the Redskins.
Shanahan did not regret having Hightower begin training camp on the active roster instead of the physically-unable-to-perform list.
"Well you could have kept him on the PUP list, but you've got to do football-related drills," Shanahan said. "And the only thing he could keep on doing on the PUP list is doing what he had been doing for the last two months."
Shanahan was upbeat – even bubbly at times – in discussing with reporters his third Redskins roster and the decisions that shaped it. Even the subject of suspended free safety Tanard Jackson, a potential starter, didn't kill his mood.
"I was disappointed because I really like the guy," Shanahan said. "I like who he is. I like the way he worked. The guy has never been arrested in his life. I'm just really disappointed for him. Obviously he's made some mistakes, but I'm just disappointed for the guy. I really do like him."
Jackson was suspended indefinitely Friday for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy. He was suspended for almost 13 months and missed 19 games over a span that included parts of the 2010 and 2011 seasons.
Shanahan acknowledged Jackson's absence from last Monday's practice was related to possible disciplinary action, but the team did not learn the suspension was official until Friday, he said.
The Redskins could have released Jackson, but they opted to keep him on the reserve/suspended list. Jackson is eligible to apply for reinstatement in a year, but it's premature to consider whether he'll ever play for the Redskins, Shanahan said.
Washington kept receiver Dezmon Briscoe over Anthony Armstrong because Armstrong plays the 'X' position, where there was a logjam, and Briscoe plays the 'Z.' The 'X' receiver in Shanahan's offense is a fast player who can stretch the field, and Armstrong was behind Pierre Garcon, Aldrick Robinson and possibly even Brandon Banks, Shanahan said.
"Briscoe is a little bit bigger guy; 6-2, in that 220 range, a very physical receiver," Shanahan said. "Whereas Anthony's more of that X guy where he's got that great speed. So we thought we were a little deeper at that 'X' position than we were that 'Z' position."
The Miami Dolphins claimed Armstrong off waivers Saturday, according to an ESPN report.
As for Banks, Shanahan envisions a versatile role for a player he required to make the team as a receiver.
"He proved that he can play at the wide receiver position," Shanahan said. "And the one thing about Brandon, he can make plays. Like we ran him around on a reverse [in the preseason finale] and not many people can make a corner miss like that and get a 40-something yard gain. "And if you have to put him in the backfield, you can run him as a tailback because he has such great quickness. He's a guy that's a playmaker, and he's proved that since he's been here. And we've got to find ways to get him the football."
After keeping only 52 on their roster Friday, the Redskins filled the open spot Saturday with former Pittsburgh and Arizona cornerback Crezdon Butler. Butler, who dislocated an ankle last September, has appeared in five NFL games.
"[We like his] speed and the way he plays the game," Shanahan said. "He had an injury and we think he's recovered from it. And if he has, I think we've got a good football player."
Overall, Shanahan believes after three years he has made significant progress acquiring the type of players he wants.
"I feel really good about our football team," he said. "It's a change, obviously, completely. And you've got guys who fit your system. You've got guys that you're hoping will all step up and play extremely well. I like the attitude going in. I like the competition, and hopefully we play accordingly."
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