- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 22, 2011

Running back Roy Helu ended up on the Washington Redskins’ injury report this week after amassing 116 touches in the past four games. His banged up knee and toe are improving, though, ahead of Saturdays game against the Minnesota Vikings.

“Right now, I feel really good,” said Helu, who was limited in Thursday’s practice. “I feel a lot better than earlier in the week today.”

Durability became a focus when the Redskins made him their feature back in their Week 12 victory over Seattle. Helu had only 51 carries in the first 10 games; he has 96 in the past four.

He insisted that’s not a factor, though.

“It doesn’t have anything to do with those four games to be honest,” he said. “It was just one of those things where I fell awkwardly.”

Westbrook’s play improved

The Redskins gave veteran Byron Westbrook some playing time at the nickel cornerback spot in last Sunday’s win over the Giants. His first play wasn’t so good.

Hakeem Nicks got behind the defense only to drop what would have been a long touchdown that would have given New York a first-quarter lead. Westbrook was supposed to stay inside Nicks, defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said, but Nicks got inside him and then ran past.

After that busted coverage, as Westbrook called it, he improved.

“I was able to settle into the game, see how guys were running their routes and stuff like that, go out there and make some plays,” he said. “I think I did a pretty good job after the first play. I’ve just got to be prepared for that situation.”

Westbrook plays mostly on special teams, but he did force the victory-clinching fumble in the Redskins’ Week 2 win over Arizona.

He is scheduled to be a restricted free agent in the offseason. Westbrook has been the fourth cornerback this season, but replacing Kevin Barnes as the nickel allows coaches to evaluate him more extensively.

“I’d like to take a look at him,” defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said. “It’s not like free for all where we’re just trying to play guys. We’re just trying to win the game, play well and take a look at some guys and see where they fit in as we go.”

Westbrook, who turns 27 on Monday, has been around the organization since Joe Gibbs was coach. He spent his first two seasons on the practice squad before making the active roster in 2009.

“I hope I’ll be back,” he said.

Ponder impresses Shanahan

Against the Vikings on Saturday, the Redskins will face Christian Ponder, one of the quarterbacks Mike Shanahan evaluated in last year’s draft. Minnesota drafted him 12th overall after the Redskins traded back from 10th to 16th.

“I liked him,” Shanahan said of the Florida State product. “I liked his release. I liked the way he handled himself, the way he played the game. I thought he had a good release. I thought he had adequate arm strength where he could make the throws and a good sense of timing.”

Injury update

c Right tackle Jammal Brown (groin), linebacker London Fletcher (ankle) and fullback Mike Sellers (right elbow) were limited in practice.

• Rich Campbell can be reached at rcampbell@washingtontimes.com.

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