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Redskins prepare for running back by committee vs. Saints

Morris, Royster, Helu unsure who will shoulder load in season opener

- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 8, 2012

Even after cutting Tim Hightower, the Washington Redskins believe in their depth at running back with Roy Helu Jr., Evan Royster and rookie Alfred Morris. All three are healthy and eager to contribute in Week 1 and beyond.

So who will get the bulk of the carries Sunday at the New Orleans Saints?

"It doesn't matter to me which one is in because I think all of them are capable," offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said. "Whoever you think is doing the best, you keep them going. You want to keep them fresh, so you rotate guys in. It's never really a planned rotation but I always expect all of three of them to play."

The running backs were asked this week about starting and shouldering the load. Every time the answer was the same.

"No, it doesn't matter," Morris said. "As long as I get an opportunity to just go in there and to get some work in, then that's fine with me. At the end it's the coaches' decision, so whatever they decide to do, I'm down with it."

Really, they don't have a choice. It's likely that the Redskins' season opener against the Saints will include something of a running back-by-committee approach.

It was thought that coach Mike Shanahan would want to employ one workhorse back, like he had in Terrell Davis with the Denver Broncos, and that might develop as soon as Sunday. But it's not set in stone.

"I don't think that there's any philosophy. There's no set way on what you do. You put the guy in who's going to help you win the game," Kyle Shanahan said. "We have three guys who are all capable runners."

Hightower at 100 percent might have been the most complete back the Redskins had in the preseason, but now it's up to Helu, Royster and Morris to round into form. Helu and Royster showed during the exhibition finale they could catch the ball out of the backfield, and Morris proved earlier on that the Redskins could lean on him to do just about everything.

That means running, catching and pass protection, something Morris will be expected to improve on in time.

"Any time you're a rookie, it's all about reps. He's got a lot of reps in practice but he hasn't got a lot of reps in the games," Kyle Shanahan said. "You're always a little nervous of that, when you get rookies in that situation. As far as Alfred, he's tough, he's physical, you're not going to be scared of anybody and he works his tail off, so you know he's studying and stuff."

Morris could be the announced starter, earning it through a strong training camp. When quarterback Robert Griffin III was asked earlier in the week how many carries he'd like to have, he started to say that if he was Alfred, changing gears to "if I was a running back, maybe 20-25 touches."

Does it matter to the running backs who gets the bulk of the carries?

"I think we'll all get a significant amount of playing time," Royster said. "Hopefully we'll all contribute."
Early in the week Royster was listed on the depth chart as the starter, though Mike Shanahan has been known to go off script. Also, that depth chart doesn't represent anything official.

Royster said he didn't know Wednesday what the plan was for him at New Orleans.

"I'm just preparing like I'm going to start, like I'm going to play a whole bunch," he said. "I really don't know exactly what my role's going to be."

It's a well-kept secret if the running backs aren't a 100 percent sure. Some split will almost certainly occur.

But as for what exactly happens, Royster joked that he'd "probably figure it out during the game or something."

The praise from Helu, Royster and Morris has come for running backs coach Bobby Turner, who prepares all of them to start and be the man. It's a strategy they believe doesn't have a downside.

"It might kind of mess with some people mentally but I think if we all go into the game like we're going to start then it can't really go wrong," Royster said.

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