The folks at Pro Football Weekly are hearing whispers that Tim Hightower has the inside track to be the Redskins starting running back this year.They say that Roy Helu Jr will be a 10-15 snap player due to durability concerns and that Evan Royster lacks the speed to be anything but a situational back. Well look at those issues in a minute but first lets look at Hightower as a workhorse back.Coming into 2010, Hightower had carried the ball 14 or more times in a game six times during his three-year NFL career. In his first three games with the Redskins he carries 25, 20, and 14 times. A shoulder injury limited him to eight carries the next week and kept him out of the next game, which came after the bye week. That was the first game he had missed since coming into the league.In Week 7 he was on his way to another heavy workload with 17 carries before he suffered a torn ACL that ended his season.One could conclude that the Cardinals, his previous NFL team, was using him properly, starting him frequently (36 starts in three seasons in Arizona) but limiting his workload. With the caveat that five games is a small sample size and that the shoulder and knee injuries could happen to anyone, its possible that the Redskins gave Hightower too heavy a workload.The same could be true for Helu. He played over 50 snaps in each of the games from Weeks 12-15 and then had to sit out the Week 16 Vikings game with an assortment of ailments. He was limited to 11 snaps in the season finale against the Eagles. It looks like his workload should be limited but dropping him down to 10-15 snaps per game, as PFW suggests,Royster ran a pedestrian 4.64 in the 40 at the combine (compared to a 4.42 for Helu) so there is solid evidence to back up lack of speed rap. But he did have two 100-yard games in the last three weeks and he averaged 5.9 yards per carry. He many not have been running very fast last year but he was getting somewhere.What all of this means is that the era of the workhorse running back in Washington is over, at least for now. You have three backs all of whom have some skills but none of whom can be the prime back in the way that John Riggins, Clinton Portis, Stephen Davis, and others were.The running back committee will emerge either by choice or by circumstances. Last year Kyle and Mike Shanahan basically worked their backs until they couldnt go any more. That forced other backs into action.If they try that again this year, they are likely to have the same result. If they plan out a rotation they might have some more backs standing by the end of the year.Rich Tandler blogs about the Redskins at www.RealRedskins.com. You can reach him by email here and follow him on Twitter @Rich_Tandler.
Every NFL training camp is different, but there are a few consistent things you can count on happening at each one each year.
At some point, for example, a star will say that he's "just excited to hit a guy wearing a different colored jersey" after about a week of practicing against his teammates. Also on the list: a coach will tell reporters that his defense plans on being more aggressive and hopes to create more turnovers in the regular season.
One of the more pleasant camp traditions, meanwhile, is that undrafted rookie who goes from stand-in to stand out and makes the team by impressing in drills and preseason contests.
But while there will be plenty of time in the coming weeks for trying to figure out who'll do that for the Redskins in 2017, let's instead look back at a handful of the players who've already accomplished that in the past with Washington. Here are the seven best undrafted free agents the franchise has unearthed since 2010.
Logan Paulsen (2010)
No one will ever mistake Logan Paulsen's film for Rob Gronkowski's, but the former UCLA Bruin held down the third tight end spot for the Redskins from 2010-2014.
His two best years came in 2012 and 2013, where he posted 25 and 28 catches respectively, scored four total times and was on the receiving end of this magical fourth-down pass from Robert Griffin III against the Giants, a play that might've just been the peak of Griffin's rookie year. Now 30, Paulsen is reuniting with Kyle Shanahan out in San Francisco, continuing to exceed expectations and extending what's been a fruitful NFL career.
Will Compton (2013)
Will Compton's made a steady climb up Washington's roster since entering the league as a free agent linebacker out of Nebraska.
He was cut in his first season back in 2013 but latched onto the practice squad. He eventually debuted near the end of 2013, though, and made the 53-man squad the next go-round. 2015 was when he first started playing regularly, then last year he started 15 contests while also serving as a captain.
In 2017, he'll have to compete with Zach Brown and Mason Foster for a starting gig, but he figures to play plenty no matter the outcome and he's one of Jay Gruden's most trusted defenders. Not bad for a guy who has admitted he "wasn't confident" as a rookie:
Here you go. Some reflection after seeing goals I wrote 4 years ago pic.twitter.com/o5iauqAxvk— Will Compton (@_willcompton) March 30, 2017
Houston Bates (2015)
Special teams often is the avenue a college free agent has to take to make a roster, and Houston Bates is an example of one who's been there, done that. He's appeared in 24 games for the Redskins in his first two NFL campaigns and will look to recover from a torn ACL he suffered last December so he can add to that total in year three.
Before that injury, he was Washington's most active special teams player with 292 snaps in 14 contests.
Quinton Dunbar (2015)
Quinton Dunbar has not only overcome being an undrafted free agent; the former Florida Gator has also made the successful transition from wide receiver to cornerback, too.
Like his classmate Bates, Dunbar has participated often in 2015 and 2016, and like Paulsen, his biggest moments have come against the Giants. As a first-year pro, he picked off Eli Manning in the end zone to the delight of a raucous FedExField crowd, and as a sophomore, he helped complete a risky fake punt and also notched another (absolutely insane) INT in New York:
Rob Kelley (2016)
This offseason, Jay Gruden joked that Rob Kelley has worked his way up from "ninth-string" to starter. He laughed as he said it, but it may not have been that big of an exaggeration.
Kelley never rushed for more than 420 yards at Tulane, but he ripped off 704 last year for the 'Skins. Now he's the top option in a talented backfield, and while Samaje Perine and Chris Thompson are nipping at his heels for carries, Gruden has repeatedly said how much he loves Kelley. He'll be fed plenty in 2017.
Anthony Lanier (2016)
Anthony Lanier's on this list not for what he's done, but for what he's projected to do. Gruden uses not one but two really's to describe how excited he is about Lanier, and a couple of months of working with assistant Jim Tomsula might be all the lineman needs to make the jump from a project to a problem.
Maurice Harris (2016)
Last on the list is a receiver who displayed sure hands and a knack for converting third downs in limited action last year. Maurice Harris now looks like he'll be an early option off the bench in Gruden's offense and should see the field far more often than he did in the second half of 2016.
You may not be fully sold on Harris, but it sounds like his teammates are, so don't be surprised if he breaks out and develops into another option for Kirk Cousins:
Good point. Heard from more than 1 player that Mo has best hands on the team https://t.co/JZwChfF0nk— JP Finlay (@JPFinlayCSN) March 24, 2017
Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, July 23, four days before the Washington Redskins start training camp in Richmond on July 27.
The Redskins last played a game 203 days ago; they will open the 2017 season against the Eagles at FedEx Field in 49 days.
—Preseason opener @ Ravens (8/10) 18
—Preseason vs. Packers at FedEx Field (8/19) 27
—Roster cut to 53 (9/2) 41
The Redskins by the numbers
5.01—The average yards per carry against the Redskins on first down last year.
I have noted this before but I took a closer look and it’s even worse. In 2016, four running backs—Isaiah Crowell of the Browns, DeAngelo Williams of the Steelers, Jordan Howard of the Bears, and Ezekiel Elliott of the Cowboys—gained over 100 yards against Washington on first down alone. It took Elliott two games to get there but the other three made it in one. If the Redskins don’t get this fixed (this is the second year in a row they have been last in the league here) their defense won’t get much better.
3.85—The Redskins average offensive gain per carry on first down.
This is not a very good performance here — the average is 20th in the NFL. But it does represent a significant improvement from 2015, when they were last in the NFL at 3.3 yards per carry. One difference was negative plays. Two years ago, they had 63 first-down plays go for no gain or a loss of yards. Last year they had 48 such plays. Rob Kelley, who was fourth-best in the league as a rookie last year at gaining yardage after being contacted behind the line, can claim a lot of credit.
8—The number of opponents’ fumbles the Redskins recovered this year.
A total of 17 other teams recovered more fumbles than the Redskins did last year and their recoveries were exactly half of what they were in 2015, when they had 16, the most in the league. It wasn’t surprising that their recoveries fell. The numbers crunchers say that fumble recoveries aren’t “sticky,” meaning that there tends to be a lot of variance for each team each year. And that makes sense as a lot of recovering fumbles is the bounce of the ball.
But it should be noted that the Redskins forced just 22 fumbles last year after forcing 36 in 2015. You have to get the ball on the ground to recover it and the Redskins could do a better job of forcing fumbles in 2017
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