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Tim Hightower's long road to recovery

Tim Hightower's long road to recovery

When Tim Hightower poked his helmet into the Redskins huddle early in Saturdays 30-17 preseason victory over the Colts, he was greeted by a curious look from tackle Trent Williams.
He looked at me surprised, like, What are you doing in here? Hightower later said. Just that alone, that was priceless.
Indeed, it had been a while since Hightower had joined Washingtons huddle. Eleven regular season games and two exhibition contests, to be exact.
Hightower tore the ACL in his left knee in Week 6 last season and spent the 10 months rehabbing and dreaming about the moment his number would get called in an NFL game again.
That moment arrived late in the second quarter, when the 26-year-old burst through the line, juked a Colts defender and raced 18 yards down to the Indianapolis five-yard line.
I couldnt have scripted anything like that, he said. I was thankful for it.
The run was his first carry in a game since suffering the injury last Oct. 23 against the Panthers. Shanahan called for Hightower again on the next play, but he was stopped four yards short of the end zone. He finished with 28 yards on five carries.
Its been a long road, a long journey, Hightower said. I was just so thankful to be back and hear the fans, hear them screaming, hear them chanting.
Hightower conceded that his surgically repaired knee will likely feel sore Sunday morning. But he also said hes no longer worried about significant setbacks.
Its all right, he said. It will probably be a little sore later on. But it feels a lot better when you win.
Coach Mike Shanahan said his reservations about playing Hightower were eased during practice last week.
I was a little nervous, Shanahan said. I saw him get better during the week and I felt there was a chance he could play but I also thought it might be a long shot. Then I saw him a couple of days ago and he looked much better so Im glad he was able to get some playing time in there.
The coach added: I feel very good about his situation, getting about 13 or 14 reps in there and feeling good after the game.Hightowers return comes at a critical time in the competition for the Redskins starting job at tailback. Hightower is listed as first on the teams depth chart, but rookie Alfred Morris backed up an impressive training camp with a 107-yard performance against the Colts. And although Evan Royster sat out with a knee injury thats believed to be minor, the second-year running back is also in the mix.
Hightower is the teams most experienced and versatile option, but hes also been around long enough to know nothing is guaranteed. Asked if he had just proved hes all the way back, Hightower said: Yes and no. Yes, from the standpoint that Im out there, I have an opportunity, I have a shot. But from there, I know this is just the beginning, the foundation. I have a lot of work left to do, as this team does. But, hey, Im back in the game, back in the fight.
During his lengthy recovery and rehab, Hightower said there were mornings he woke up so sore he second-guessed himself. But those doubts began to subside in recent weeks and, after Saturday, might disappear altogether.
You always have doubts, he said. Youre going to have days when you wake up and you dont feel to good and you second guess yourself. But, ultimately, I believed. I had no choice. This is what I want to do.

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Need to Know: The Redskins week that was—Trade winds, Cousins vs. McCoy

Need to Know: The Redskins week that was—Trade winds, Cousins vs. McCoy

Here is what you need to know on this Saturday, February 25, 12 days before the March 9 start of NFL free agency.  

Timeline

Days until:

—NFL Franchise tag deadline (3/1) 4
—NFL Combine (3/2) 5
—Redskins offseason workouts start (4/17) 51
—NFL Draft (4/27) 61
—First Sunday of 2017 season (9/10) 197

The Redskins week that was

Here is my take on some of the week’s top stories from Real Redskins and CSN Mid Atlantic.  

Cousins trade to 49ers could happen at combine, per NFL analyst—The Redskins must decide if they are ever going to sign Kirk Cousins long term. If the answer is no, they must figure out if they are better off having him around for one year prior to losing him without compensation or trying to trade him now. It is possible to simultaneously believe that the Redskins should sign Cousins for the long term but that trading him may be necessary.

RELATED: NFL Mock Draft Version 3.0

Will McCloughan go defense in 1st round? If the best player available plays defense, he will. If he doesn’t I’m just going to have to shut down Twitter for a while. Or maybe I won’t have to since it will crash.

Under the radar issues for the Redskins—The offseason checklist has more than quarterback, D-line and wide receiver on it. The nine draft picks they have will be critical as they try to build on 2016’s occasionally frustrating results.

Why can't the Redskins sign Garcon and Jackson? That question is easy to answer—with Jamison Crowder due to get an extension next year they will run into cap problems if they bring both of them back. It does look like the numbers will work with one of them coming back, however, and if they do let both walk it will be a head-scratcher.

More Redskins: #RedskinsTalk podcast: Is Kirk too nice for his own good?

Can McCoy produce similar results at less cost than Cousins? With Colt McCoy under contract for $3 million and a potential Cousins tag costing nearly $24 million some at Redskins Park are wondering if Cousins is eight times better than McCoy and if he’s not, why pay him? This is kind of a silly question, like asking if Trent Williams is 15 times better than Ty Nsekhe or if Josh Norman is 20 times better than Kendall Fuller. The question is, does that player at that key position good enough to play his part in getting the team into the playoffs? McCoy hasn’t proven that he is, while Cousins has been to the playoffs once and just missed last year. The proven ability to do something counts for a lot in the form of the number of zeros in a player’s paycheck.

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In case you missed it

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page Facebook.com/TandlerCSN and follow him on Twitter @Rich_TandlerCSN.

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Redskins offseason questions: Can Kirk Cousins take the next step in 2017?

Redskins offseason questions: Can Kirk Cousins take the next step in 2017?

The good news for the 2016 Redskins was that they didn’t collapse after winning the division the previous season as has been their pattern in the past. The bad news was that they didn’t take the next step and improve from a franchise that can compete to make the playoffs into one that is playing multiple postseason games year in and year out.

That work begins right now for Jay Gruden, Scot McCloughan and the players. In the coming weeks, Redskins reporters Rich Tandler and JP Finlay will examine the biggest questions facing the Redskins as another offseason gets rolling.

RELATED: #RedskinsTalk podcast: Is Kirk too nice?

Will Kirk Cousins take the next step in 2017?

Finlay: The better question might be what constitutes the next step for Cousins? And going one step further, will it be with the Redskins? Answering the second part first, Cousins will be the 'Skins quarterback in 2017. Taking the next step is trickier, since the passer has thrown for more than 9,000 yards in the last two seasons.

For me, Cousins can still get much better, particularly in the red zone. If the Redskins scored at the same pace they pile up yards, this team would have won 11 games in 2016. 

In 2016, Cousins ranked 3rd in the NFL in passing yards, yet outside of the Top 10 in TDs with 25. To really enter the next phase of his career, Cousins needs to lead an offense that scores more, and that means 30+ touchdowns. He can do it. 

Tandler: I don’t look at the next step for Cousins being about numbers. Sure, maybe he can throw for 5,000 yards and 30-plus touchdowns on year. But being a top quarterback is more than that.

I want to see him go into Seattle next year and rally the Redskins from a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter. I want to see him go into a playoff game and, unlike what happened against the Packers after the 2015 season, will the team to a win when the Redskins aren’t playing their best and when a QB like Aaron Rodgers is on the other side. I want to see him glare at a lineman who missed an assignment and correct a receiver who went the wrong way on a route.

To be sure, he has led the team to some comeback wins and he has played very well in some key games, like the division-clinching win in Philadelphia in 2015. But a top-flight quarterback can’t essentially negate one of those with a play like the season-ending pick against the Giants. Sure, any quarterback is going to have an off day. But you have to have more pluses than minuses on the ledger.

Cousins has been a starter for just two years so maybe he can develop into a top-shelf quarterback. Putting up good stats is part of the picture but he won’t be there until he elevates and motivates those around him. Maybe he can take that next step but until he does there is no way of knowing if he will. 

More offseason questions: 

What are reasonable expectations for Josh Doctson?

— Will there be a surprise salary cap cut?

— Should the Redskins defense switch to the 4-3?

— Is Spencer Long the answer at center?

— How many D-linemen do the Redskins need?

— Should the Redskins draft another QB? 

— With Sean McVay gone, will the Redskins run the ball more?

— Can Cravens handle the transition to safety? 

— Will the Redskins re-sign Pierre Garçon? 

— Will Rob Kelley be the lead running back in 2017?

— Defense in the first round?

— Will they make a change at left guard?

<<<LOOKING AT REDSKINS DRAFT PROSPECTS>>>

Want more Redskins? Check out @JPFinlayCSN and @Rich_TandlerCSN for live updates or click here for the #RedskinsTalk Podcast on iTuneshere for Google Play or press play below. Don't forget to subscribe!