Point-Counterpoint: Battle of the backs

Point-Counterpoint: Battle of the backs
May 3, 2013, 10:00 am
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By  Rich Tandler and Tarik El-Bashir

Even though running back was not considered to be a position of great need for the Redskins going into the draft, they ended up taking two of them. Chris Thompson of Florida State is a speedy, elusive back who can be gone with one move. Those are similar attributes to those of Roy Helu Jr.

Jawan Jamison of Rutgers, meantime, is more of a classic one-cut runner who likely would displace Evan Royster if he made the roster.

Royster vs. Jamison will get underway during OTA’s starting in a few weeks. Thompson, though, won’t be ready until training camp as he rehabs his knee so his battle with Helu will have to wait. But we don’t have to wait until then to discuss who will win each of the two competitions. Rich Tandler and Tarik El-Bashir debate the battle of the backs in this week’s edition of Point-Counterpoint.

Thompson vs. Helu

Tandler: Given Helu’s durability issues, this could be an easy call to make. However, Thompson’s last two seasons at Florida State ended with a broken back and a torn ACL so his availability is an issue as well. But it seems like the writing is on the wall for Helu. Thompson is a little bit quicker, a little bit faster, a little bit more elusive than Helu. It is not hard to see him popping a long run or two during the preseason and forcing Helu to press. Can Helu avoid the nagging injuries that derailed his 2012 season before it ever got started? Even if he does, I think Thompson gives them more of what they are looking for in a third-down, situational running back. He makes the 53, Helu is gone.

El-Bashir: If Helu can overcome his lingering foot ailment – and that seems like a legitimate question at the moment – he’s got one thing Thompson lacks: an NFL resume. When he was healthy in 2011, Helu was impressive, rushing for a team-leading 640 yards on 151 carries (4.2 per rush average) and, even more important, reeling in 49 passes for 379 yards. That versatility helped him rank second on the team in first downs converted two seasons ago. In addition, he’s three inches taller and almost 30 pounds heavier than Thompson. Size isn’t everything for a change-of-pace back, but there’s a reason NFL teams measure and weigh players. Here’s how I see this battle playing out: Helu figures to be closer to 100-percent in camp than Thompson, who will be only nine months removed from ACL surgery. Because of that, Helu makes the cut and Thompson starts on the season on practice squad or the PUP list.

Jamison vs. Royster

El-Bashir: Ever since I covered Royster as a high schooler at Westfield, I’ve had an appreciation for his tough, determined running style. And, three years into his pro career, I think he’s proven that he’s an NFL-caliber back. I’m just not convinced he’s a fit in Washington next season. And, with the selection of Jamison, obviously neither are the Shanahans. In 2012, Royster only had 23 carries (for 88 yards) and 15 catches for 109. That’s not a great sign, particularly after entering training camp last July with a chance to seize the No. 1 job. Jamison, on the other hand, is going to be that shiny new toy and, given his penchant for pinballing off defenders and/or spinning past them, I’m betting he secures a spot on the 53. In fact, I could see the backfield looking like this next September: Alfred Morris, Helu, Jamison and fullback Darrel Young. Royster will end up plying his trade elsewhere.

Tandler: Royster has constantly been underestimated. He’s not big enough, he’s not fast enough but when he’s given a chance he produces. The likes of Franco Harris, Curt Warner, Lydell Mitchell, and others have toted the rock in Happy Valley but Royster is Penn State’s all-time leading rusher. Jamison, meanwhile, left Rutgers after two years and didn’t even post the 2,124 yards needed to crack the Scarlet Knights’ career top 10. Production in college doesn’t mean much at this level but the contract here shows how little experience Jamison has playing big-time football. If you talk to me a year from now I might be convinced that Jamison has a shot. But I say Royster in on the 53 this year, Jamison gets a year on the practice squad and the competition resumes in OTA’s in 2014.