Position series: Redskins running backs

June, 19, 2012
6/19/12
3:28
PM ET
Our position-by-position look at the four NFC East teams makes a stop in the oddly crowded backfield of the Washington Redskins.

[+] EnlargeRoy Helu
Geoff Burke/US PresswireWashington RB Roy Helu had three games with 100 or more rushing yards last season.
Projected starters: RB Tim Hightower, FB Darrel Young

Reserves: RB Roy Helu, RB Evan Royster, RB Tristan Davis, RB Alfred Morris, RB Antwon Bailey

Potential strength: Depth. Assuming everyone's healthy (a big assumption, since Hightower, Helu, Royster, Davis and Young were all being held out of practice with injuries last year), the Redskins have three backs on their roster that they know are capable of rolling up 100 plus-yard games in Mike Shanahan's zone-blocking scheme. Hightower didn't quite reach that mark as the starter last year before an ACL injury ended his season, but both Helu and Royster did, and each showed the ability to fill in as the feature back if necessary. Hightower is viewed by the coaching staff as the most complete back -- i.e., an asset as a runner, a pass-catcher and a blocker -- and so he's the starter if his knee holds up through training camp. But even if he does start, you can expect the Redskins to find plenty of ways to use Helu and Royster to alleviate some of the pressure on rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III in 2012.

Potential weakness: The aforementioned health concerns. Hightower is not, currently, healthy, and if the overall health situation in the backfield doesn't improve over the next month the Redskins might need to bring in another back for training camp. What they want is quality depth at the position, but that takes a real hit if they can't get and/or keep all of these guys healthy. There's some concern that Helu would wear down if given a starter's workload at this point in his career, which is why he's not the projected starter over a healthy Hightower.

Keep an eye on: Young. Now in his second year as the starting fullback, he may be as critical as ever to the success of the run game. The zone-blocking scheme requires a fullback who can communicate effectively with the linemen and the tailbacks, and Young took to the role very impressively last year. He also showed, in that second Giants game, the ability to make a play with the ball when called upon. Don't be surprised if he gets more than a stray catch or carry, or if they've designed more ways to use his athleticism.

Dan Graziano

ESPN New York Giants reporter

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