When Alfred Morris first arrived at Redskins training camp a little more than two years ago, he was widely overshadowed by another rookie, No. 2 overall pick Robert Griffin III.
When Morris arrived at training camp last year after a sensational first season, he was again overshadowed by Griffin's return from offseason knee surgery.
During his two years in the NFL, Morris has rushed for more yards than anyone except Adrian Peterson. He was one of three Redskins to reach the Pro Bowl in 2013. He might prove to be the most important cog in new coach Jay Gruden's offense. So entering this summer's training camp, the third-year running back was due to get his fair share of recognition.
And yet, nothing has changed.
"He's still Alfred, man," fullback Darrel Young said. "He's always been behind the scenes because of the attention that Robert gets — in a good way."
While Griffin and star offseason acquisition DeSean Jackson have received the majority of the attention so far, Morris has quietly improved his route-running skills out of the backfield. He is expected to be a more integral part of the passing game this year.
"It's not really that big of a deal," Morris said of his role as a receiver. "I've been wanting to do this for a long time so I'm just thankful that they are allowing me to do that and giving me chances, and just building that trust and confidence in me."
Morris only had nine catches last season and 11 as a rookie. In college, it was more of the same. He left Florida Atlantic University with a total of 30 receptions in 36 games.
Morris said his focus has been adjusting to coverages, learning the finer points of running routes, and creating separation from defenders. Actually catching the ball is the easy part.
To improve in these departments, Morris occasionally leaves his positional drills to catch passes from Griffin at the beginning of practice. The extra work has shown in 7-on-7 drills when he is lined up across from a linebacker.
"He's been snagging balls," Young said. "Catching everything."
Gruden referred to Morris as "steady Eddie" and said he has taken the new pass-heavy offensive philosophy in stride.
"You never hear a peep from him," Gruden said. "If I throw the ball 10 times in a row in practice and he's in there, he doesn't say a word. A lot of guys would be ripping their chinstrap off, 'Give me the ball!' But Alfred is a total team player and a total class act. And he'll get his touches, no worries about that."
Morris racked up 1,613 yards and 13 rushing touchdowns in 2012 to help lead the Redskins to the playoffs. He followed that up last year with 1,275 rushing yards and seven scores.
The Redskins are counting on Morris to be the same productive runner again this season, creating a unique form of pressure. Fans and coaches expect him to match and perhaps exceed his already high levels of performance. But Morris said his mentality hasn't changed.
"It's the NFL," Morris said. "There's already pressure. It's already stressful to be perfect and just come out here and execute every day because, if not, you have a young guy nipping at your heels, waiting for you to mess up."
Young raved about Morris' value to the offense and demeanor on the field. The fullback said Morris likely would have been the rookie of the year in 2012 if it hadn't been for Griffin, then added: "He’s one of those guys that you root for all the time."
When asked if Morris gets enough credit for his play, Young paused.
"He gets the attention from the guys he needs to, and that's the guys on the field," he said. "We support him. We have the utmost respect for him. And we trust him when he's out there."
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