- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 24, 2011

Evan Royster stood in back of the warm interview room, arms crossed and head bowed toward the carpet. Eight television cameras were pointed the other way and, for a few minutes, the Washington Redskins‘ rookie running back remained anonymous.

But the green turf stains smeared across the knees of Royster’s gold pants betrayed him.

Royster rolled up 132 yards on 19 carries Saturday against the Minnesota Vikings in his first career start, adding another twist to his first professional season.

“I never thought that I’d start a game this year, to be honest,” Royster said. “That’s not to say I wasn’t prepared. I came in every week like I was going to play.”

The sixth-round pick was signed from the team’s practice squad on Nov. 20, part of the Redskins‘ season-long revolving door at running back. Seventeen carries in four games followed for the man who is Penn State’s all-time leading rusher.

Then, minutes before Saturday’s game at FedEx Field, Royster learned fellow rookie running back Roy Helu was inactive with toe and knee injuries, and he would start. He’s the fourth running back the Redskins have started this season.

“Anytime you average around seven yards a carry against a defense that had been doing pretty good against the run, you feel like he’s had a great day,” coach Mike Shanahan said. “As he gets more experienced and feels more comfortable with himself and with this system, I think you’ll see him get better and better.”

While Helu has grabbed attention and the starting running back’s job in the last month – delivering 112 touches in the Redskins‘ previous four games – Royster showed he’s capable of carrying the load, too. Helu and Royster are the first rookies in Redskins history to each rush for 100 yards in a game in the same season.

Royster said he got the majority of the week’s practice reps with the first team, allowing him to acclimate to the speed of the game.

That showed in the early going against a Vikings defense ranked 10th in the NFL against the run. Nine yards for Royster on a delay. Five more on a cutback. Quick pitch-backs allowed Royster to get the ball deeper in the backfield, survey the defense and plow into the line of scrimmage.

“I felt pretty comfortable early on,” said Royster, the Fairfax native who had a sizable contingent of friends and family in attendance. “When you start off like that, the rhythm comes pretty quick. … Once you get going, it’s hard to stop a zone scheme.”

Royster shed tackles, like the 28-yard scamper when he broke into the middle of the field late in the third quarter. The exhortation of running backs coach Bobby Turner to break tackles – or he’ll find someone else to play – stuck with Royster.

“He did a hell of a job,” quarterback Rex Grossman said. “The offensive line created a lot of holes, and he moved pretty fast. He gets in there, and when gets in there, he kind of glides through the holes, and he’s pretty effective runner.”

The locker room was half-empty, like FedEx Field on Saturday afternoon, when Royster glided back to it. He reclined in a chair and started checking messages on his phone.

The anonymity was gone.

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