- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Alfred Morris raced across the goal line Sunday and celebrated his touchdown in a way familiar to anyone who has followed the Washington Redskins’ first four games. He pantomimed tossing a baseball into the air and swinging a bat. Then he held his hand above his eyes, as if to shield the sun from his vision as he watched the home run sail into the distance.

It wouldn’t have been showtime for Morris, though, without two critical blocks from wide receivers. And when coaches on Wednesday played video of that 39-yard touchdown run for the team, they highlighted the quality of those blocks by receivers Joshua Morgan and Leonard Hankerson.

“Whenever you can bust your tail on the backside of a run, and the last guy, you’ve got to get him blocked, it’s a pretty big deal, man,” Hankerson said at his locker Wednesday. “Coaches see it on the film, and they love stuff like that.”

Coordinator Kyle Shanahan’s offense heavily emphasizes blocking by wide receivers on running and screen plays. This coaching staff has prioritized that during all three seasons since it took over, but the Redskins’ rebuilt receiving corps is blocking exceptionally well. It’s a major reason why Washington ranks third in the NFL with 5.16 yards per rush.

“They’re tough on you about it because blocking is going to open up everything,” Hankerson said. “It’s going to open up the run game and open up the passing game. When you get it done like the way we getting it done around here, it’s going to make us have even more big plays.”

Coach Mike Shanahan believes quality blocking by receivers begins with commitment.

Anyone who has watched an NFL game has seen a receiver loaf on the perimeter while a running back pounds the ball inside amid flying bodies. Redskins coaches have made it clear to their receivers such a lackadaisical approach is unacceptable.

“Everywhere I’ve been, I’ve always had to block, but I think with our offense they emphasize us blocking a little more,” veteran wideout Santana Moss said. “I’ve watched guys for years that that wasn’t a part of their game. They’re going to catch balls all day, and they’ll be out there sissy-footing with the [defensive backs]. Here, coach Shanahan and them don’t play that. If you ain’t blocking, you ain’t going to be on the field.”

Mike and Kyle Shanahan’s blocking requirement for receivers attracted them to Morgan and Pierre Garcon during the free agency period in the offseason. Both made key blocks against Tampa Bay that contributed to touchdowns.

On a first-quarter quarterback draw from Tampa Bay’s 9-yard line, Garcon sprinted from the left to block linebacker Lavonte David on the second level. That put him in position to pounce on the loose ball when quarterback Robert Griffin III fumbled.

Griffin appreciated the commitment. In Week 2 against St. Louis, he scored his first career touchdown on a readoption run to the left that Hankerson made possible by blocking the high safety.

“They’ve done a great job,” Griffin said. “Whenever your receivers buy into the running game, it completely changes your team.”

On Morris’ run in the second quarter against the Buccaneers, Morgan ran in from the left slot and sealed safety Mark Barron inside. Hankerson, meanwhile, engaged cornerback Aqib Talib downfield long enough to take him out of the play as Morris burst to the end zone.

“They gave us props and everything,” Morgan said. “You just feel good that you’re doing your job. The running back already takes enough hits. You know that you could take a hit off him. You feel good, like, yeah, I saved him and he got a touchdown, so he gets to shine.”

They keys to effective blocking, Morgan says, are footwork, proper angles and hat placement. What he means by hat placement: making sure his head is inside or outside of a defender’s — depending on the play’s direction — so he can gain advantageous leverage.

On Morris’ touchdown run, for example, Morgan made sure his head was to the left of Barron’s when they made contact. That centered Morgan’s body so that Barron couldn’t get to the outside and tackle Morris.

That nuance of blocking was irrelevant to Morgan when he joined the Redskins from the San Francisco 49ers.

“I never worried about none of that,” he said. “I just hit him and he just go wherever I want him to go. I notice a difference. It’s easier, honestly. I was doing it the hard way.”

For Mike Shanahan, seeing his receivers’ selflessness in blocking is most satisfying. Morgan calls it “watching out for your brother.” Shanahan calls it playing for each other.

Regardless of how you frame it, it’s a major element of the Redskins’ offensive emergence.

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

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