- The Washington Times - Friday, September 2, 2011

Ryan Torain wasn’t the Redskins’ No. 1 halfback coming out of training camp last season. He wasn’t even on the 53-man roster, instead placed on the practice squad where he was available to any team that wanted him.

But Mike Shanahan is glad there were no takers for another of his trademark, late-round runners, Torain being one he drafted for Denver in 2008. The fifth-rounder wound up as the Redskins’ leading rusher last season after Clinton Portis was injured in Week 4.

We know Shanahan has a knack for finding good halfbacks on the NFL’s reject table. We also know that Tim Hightower has emerged as the likely starter after coming over in a trade. What we don’t know is if Torain can overcome the injury bug that finally caught up with former Redskins wideout Malcolm Kelly this year.

Torain, out of action with a broken left hand for most of camp, finally made his preseason debut in Washington’s 29-24 victory against Tampa Bay. His prolonged absence probably cost him a shot at retaining the starting job, but the greater concern Thursday night was simply playing and knocking off the rust.

He did so and more, knocking over tacklers and running through others, finishing with 73 yards on 17 carries while displaying the powerful style that made him so productive in 2010. Watching No. 46 gash an opponent’s defense again was a welcome sight.

Torain’s a hell of a runner,” center Will Montgomery said. “He was hitting the holes and running hard. He’s going to be a valuable asset to this team.”

It took a while for him to get going, dropped for two-yard and one-yard losses on his first couple of carries, though that was due to multiple Buccaneers in the backfield as much as anything. But before you knew it he looked like the Torain of last year, breaking off runs of seven, four and nine yards during a second-quarter drive. A third-quarter possession saw him go for six, seven, nine and 18 yards.

“It definitely felt good to get back out there,” Torain said. “They had me working hard while I was healing the hand, so I felt pretty comfortable with my stamina. I was out there playing fast, playing full speed. It felt like I didn’t miss a beat.”

He averaged 4.5 yards per carry last season and had a huge game against Tampa Bay, rushing for a career-high 172 yards. But hamstring injuries caused him to miss four games when he could’ve been cementing his status as the Redskins’ starting tailback. A fractured elbow and then a torn ACL cost him most of his rookie year in Denver. A foot fracture during his senior year at Arizona State sidelined him for the final seven games and sent his draft stock plummeting.

This year it was his hand, which required the insertion of four screws.

“I’ve got to be positive and take care of my body and just keep making plays,” he said. “I had to get out there and prove myself after missing all of the preseason. Coach gave me an opportunity to work and I took advantage of it.”

Hightower, who sat out along with several other presumed starters, took note. He said Torain “did his job” and will only make the offense better.

“Competition brings out the best in players and the best in a team,” Hightower said. “It’s going to make me a better back and make him a better back. We know there’s no drop-off and it’s going to keep us both at our best. And if we’re at our best, we’re going to have a scary team.”

First they have to keep Torain on the field. He’s spent most of his time away from it since being drafted, but he knows his way around once he’s there. With him and Hightower spearheading the rushing attack, whoever starts at quarterback shoul dhave an easier job.

Torain’s more of a bruising-type back — he’ll run you over,” Montgomery said. “Hightower’s a little more shifty. But they’re both great backs in this offense. If we (the line) do our job, they’re definitely going to do theirs.”

Hightower got a head start during this preseason. But in just one game, Torain demonstrated that he’s too not far behind.

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