There is always dread in the fantasy football world when it comes to a Mike Shanahan backfield. Clearly 2012 is no exception yet in fairness to the Redskins head coach, the setup is not his doing. Sure, there mightwill be random changes made seemingly on a whim three plays into a game, three games into the season, three-quarters of the way down the road. Right now, we dont even have a viable depth chart not from a fantasy perspective anyway to work with. For those still gearing up for their drafts or are debating future trade or free agent pickups, heres one mans best attempt to decipher the mind field known as the Redskins backfield.Roy Helu The upside option you dont need for now guyLast season the Nebraska rookie outran expectations with a dazzling second half stretch including three straight 100-yard rushing games plus a team-record 14 receptions for 105 yards in another. Helus campaign ended early with injuries and perhaps overuse; his body and playing style speak of a change-of-pace guy, which figures to be his role this season. That is once he recovers from his Achilles tendon woes. The main question is when Helu starts playing again will he return as the starter. The ancillary query is will someone else have emerged as the Bell Cow back by then. Best drafted as a fantasy reserve, as his plummeting average draft position (96) indicates, and by an owner not looking for immediate help.Alfred Morris Fill in the early missing lineup gap and see what happens guyThere was some early love out of OTAs for the Florida Atlantic rookie, but not sure anyone could have imagined the sixth-round pick as a possible if not likely opening game starter. Not an elite talent, but Morris runs with power and a hint of shiftiness. It would be unfair to suggest he has a chance to run away with the job, but if Morris turns in a credible if not stellar performance against the Saints (should he get the starting nod), whos to say he heads back to the bench when the others return. Dont overdraft based on the potential start, but at this moment in time Morris should be the second Redskin back coming off the board and in a double digit round.Tim Hightower His aggressive running style makes him fun to own for as long as it lasts guyNot a bad showing last week from the veteran back recovering from a major knee injury suffered last season. Does that make me trust Hightower going forward? Um, no. If this truly turns into some undecipherable running back by committee, imagining No. 25 being the leader of the pack isnt a stretch, but the role only works if the Redskins dont overuse him. If we start talking about 15-20 touches a game, the wear down factor rises dramatically. Shanahan wants Hightower around for his veteran presence and pass blocking prowess more than his yard gaining ability. Draftable in 12-14 team leagues, but as a flyer. In my opinion, if youre taking a sleeper, go with the younger legs on with whatever team they exist.Evan Royster The former sleeper whos now the guy behind the guy behind that other guy, guyPerhaps the true wildcard in the mix as recent injuries to last years other rookie surprise derailed Roysters rising status as possible starter and fantasy darling. Now he may have been passed by Morris as the Flavor of the Month, though the former Penn State rusher hopes to crack the field in tonights preseason finale against the Bucs. Is he worth drafting? Yes, but in the late round and in a lottery ticket sort of way.Of course, if Royster or Hightower or Morris or Helu stand out against Tampa Bay, then another revision of the RB depth chart is in order. Get used to it.
Josh Norman is bound to receive a lot of attention for the new story in ESPN The Magazine that centers around him. The Redskins star likely expects it, too, after calling himself "the best cornerback on earth" and Odell Beckham Jr. a "villain."
But Beckham isn't the only wideout whom the defensive back goes after in the feature. At one point, Norman says of Broncos pass catcher Demaryius Thomas, the target Norman held to just one catch in Carolina's Super Bowl loss to Denver: "I don't know what he was out there for. He was supposed to be an all-world guy, and I shut him down."
Well, that quote has clearly already reached Thomas, judging by this tweet he sent out on Tuesday:
Unfortunately, while Norman will have a chance this year to directly silence other players who've called him out this offseason — including the aforementioned Beckham, Cardinals corner Patrick Peterson and his former club who shockingly released him — the Broncos and Redskins aren't scheduled to face one another in 2016.
Unless, of course, both sides are able to make their way to Houston for Super Bowl 51. And if that matchup does somehow come to fruition, Norman will finally be in position to answer Thomas' Twitter taunt and secure a ring of his own. For now, however, Thomas has the upper hand... or finger, that is.
ASHBURN - Things turned upside down for Josh Norman this summer, and as the coverage surrounding his every word increases, the new Redskins cornerback knows what to expect. The latest batch of bulletin board material came from an ESPN the Magazine article in which Norman proclaimed, among other things, that he's the best corner in the league. Asked about those comments on Tuesday, Norman did not want to discuss it.
"I’m not about to answer any questions about it right now," Norman said in a media scrum. "I think at a later date those questions will be asked, but right now something that was done five months ago, I really don’t feel like talking about after our practice today."
Though Norman didn't comment on the specifics in the article, the conversation turned around to the new spotlight the Redskins $75 million player lives under.
"When you get a deal like that, everything comes with it," he said. "Everything’s magnified times 10."
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Norman explained that for his whole career - from a late-round draft pick to a backup to an All-Pro - he always felt like he had to earn his spot, though that role has changed.
"Once I was the underdog and I had to fight my way up to the top. I had to like drive, drive, drive, drive and continue to work hard and do everything that I’ve gotten to this point. But now, I’m no longer the underdog. Now I’m no longer that person. Now I am the guy that has to take on a new face, has to take on a new mask and be somebody that is always going to be the standard."
Changing roles will not be too much for Norman to handle.
"That’s something that I haven’t experienced yet and now taking that challenge and looking at it, I want to do it in a way I want to do it and not no way nobody else wants to make me do it. I think that, in an aspect, I just have to grow in that field, which I will. Those things come and I just got to understand that, but still have that dog when you’re on the football field."
Norman said that his faith helps him handle challenges, and pushes him to get through tough times.
"I can take it. I can go and use it and use it as another tool to try to find myself as a person and as an individual player to come in and bring something different. I think if I can have that unique set of tools and skills to be able to fend off everything that people say, I can take it. I can take it and continue to be successful."
For Redskins fans, as long as Norman is successful on the field, the headlines and increased exposure will be fun distractions.
"I can take it. I’m a big boy. I got some big shoes. We’ll be having fun with it and enjoying our teammates that’s on the team now."
ASHBURN - When Matt Jones left last Friday's preseason game against the Jets with a shoulder injury, Redskins fans were near panic mode. Washington's running back unit looks quite thin behind Jones, so the consternation made sense, though nerves calmed some when the prognosis for the running back did not seem too worrisome.
On Tuesday, Jones worked off to the side at Redskins practice with other injured players, rehabbing from the sprained AC joint in his left shoulder. Interestingly, the work Jones put in with trainers seemed more focused on his legs than his shoulder, which Jones explained as a way to keep his legs strong when he's not taking reps with the first team offense. More importantly, Jones feels like his injury is moving along quickly.
"It's feeling pretty good. I'm moving fast in my healing process right now," Jones said. "I'm taking big strides."
Asked if his goal was to be back for the Redskins regular season opener against the Steelers on September 12, Jones replied "definitely."
Sitting at his locker, Jones did not have a sling holding his left arm or look to be in any noticeable discomfort. A rookie last year, Jones rushed for 490 yards on 144 attempts, good for just a 3.4 yards-per-carry average. Washington coach Jay Gruden will need more than that this fall if the team is to improve a rather dull run game last season. Jones knows the expectations are increased, and he's working hard to deliver.
"I just keep taking my practice reps like the game reps. I'm just going to keep that preparation going," he said.
Before the injury against New York, Jones carried the ball well, running seven times for 31 yards, an average of a full yard more than last season. That's the Jones the coach wants to see, and it looks like the shoulder injury shouldn't be too much of an impediment.
"I don’t feel like it’s a setback at all," he said. "I'm actually moving, running around a little bit. It's starting to feel better and better each and every day. I'm just going day by day."