Alfred Morris said he was "in awe" of the situation. He didn't have the same spotlight on him as Robert Griffin III, but the Washington Redskins' sixth-round pick out of Florida Atlantic still was making his NFL debut in front of 70,000-plus fans at the Superdome.
The stage was different, but Morris wasn't jittery with butterflies. That's because he had already gotten a taste of the pros in the preseason and, most importantly, because his parents, Ronald and Yvonne, were there to witness this milestone.
"I was looking for them the whole time," Morris said. "Every time my parents come to the game, I always look for them, and once I see them, I'm like, 'All right, they're fine, I'm fine now. ... We can go out there and have fun.'"
It didn't take long for Morris to find his parents; he made sure to note their section on their tickets beforehand. And it didn't take long for the 23-year-old to stand out.
Morris finished with 28 carries for 96 yards and two touchdowns. It wasn't a record-setting career opener like Griffin's, but it was evidence of why he was chosen to start and shoulder the burden at running back.
"I never go out there saying I have anything to prove. I know what I'm capable of," Morris said. "I know what type of guy I am; I know my work ethic, and I'm going to go out there and get it done no matter what."
Morris went into training camp behind Tim Hightower, Roy Helu Jr. and Evan Royster on the depth chart. Hightower was released, and Royster and Helu combined for just four carries in the 40-32 win over the New Orleans Saints.
Meanwhile, Morris shined.
"Alfred came in, you can see all the way through preseason really had some great runs, runs you don't normally see by rookies, so he earned the opportunity to start," coach Mike Shanahan said. "And he took advantage of his opportunity. This defense played well, they played extremely hard. Nothing was given to us; he had to earn everything he got, but I'm really pleased with the way it turned out."
So pleased that Shanahan declared Monday: "Alfred right now is our starting running back." No more guessing games or concerns about a three-headed attack. Helu and Royster likely will have roles in Week 2 at the St. Louis Rams, but Morris will be the feature back.
Morris' big afternoon helped keep New Orleans' defense honest and opened up space on the ground for Griffin, who rushed for 42 yards.
"It helps both of us. It helps the run game and the pass game just to have a dual-threat quarterback." Morris said. "They can't key on the running back, [or] the quarterback's going to go, 'Hey, bye, bye.' The same thing going on the quarterback, the running back can get a big run."
Griffin and Morris praised the offensive line, but rarely were there big holes. Morris dealt with the room he had and averaged 3.4 yards a carry.
"That's a tough day for a running back. Anytime you run the ball 25-plus times and you're upwards of 80 to 90 yards, that's tough yards," Griffin said. "That's not breaking a long run, and it pads your stats. He did a great job staying at it."
Staying at it is a football career axiom for Morris, who said he could have quit the sport many times. He spoke with one of his former pastors from school Saturday and told him how thankful he was to keep pushing through.
"I've played with a lot of great people, a lot of great talents. And they're not here, but I am. It doesn't take just talent to get you here; it takes a lot more than that," Morris said. "My will will never be broken. Me as a person, you can't change me. I am who I am, and I know what I'm capable of doing."
The Saints found that out Sunday. He appeared to improve as the game went along.
"I go out there and just lay it on guys, and as the game goes on, I just continue to, in a sense, get stronger and stronger and just my will to not be stopped," Morris said. "That's one of things I do. I call it 'Demanding my respect.'"
One impressive start down, consider it respect earned.
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