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Monday, October 1, 2012
Alfred Morris, the 'other' Redskins rookie

By Dan Graziano

While RGIII gets most of the love, Redskins running back Alfred Morris is quietly having a solid rookie season.
While RGIII gets most of the love, Redskins running back Alfred Morris is quietly having a solid rookie season.

When I got up this morning, I figured my Monday post on the Washington Redskins would be about Robert Griffin III. Made sense. Another huge game, his first fourth-quarter comeback, poise, excitement, yada, yada, yada...

But then I thought I might want to try something different. It's not as though I'm going to run out of opportunities to write about Griffin, after all. And the Redskins have another rookie on offense who had his first 100-yard rushing game Sunday. Alfred Morris, Washington's sixth-round pick in this past April's draft, ran for 113 yards on 21 carries in Sunday's 24-22 victory in Tampa Bay. He's fifth in the league in rushing yards, the unquestioned starter at running back on the league's fourth-highest-scoring team. He's grateful and humble and anything but flashy.

And then he did something that sealed the deal. He called me back.

"I never would have expected for all of this to happen so soon," Morris said in a phone interview Monday afternoon. "But life's crazy. Some other guys got nicked and bruised, and I got the opportunity to show the coaches what I could do, and they liked it."

Mike Shanahan and the Redskins' coaches love it. They took Morris in the sixth round because they knew last year's starter, Tim Hightower, might not make it back from his knee surgery and they'd need depth at running back for training camp. He came from a Florida Atlantic team that went 1-11 last year, and the scouting report on him was he was an unspectacular, straight-ahead runner who might even be better suited to play fullback.

But what Shanahan saw was a young man who ran exactly the way he wants his running backs to run -- one cut and get up the field. Morris fits the Redskins' system, perfectly. And while Shanahan certainly didn't draft him expecting him to start and gain 376 yards in the first four games, he did believe that Morris was the kind of back who could have success in his offense if they had to use him.

"I've always been a one-cut type of back. I've never been a guy that jukes a lot," Morris said. "I don't like losing yards. That's one of my pet peeves."

He and Shanahan may have been meant for each other. The Redskins' coach was impressed right away with the way Morris hit the holes, leaned and fell forward and didn't do anything potentially costly in an effort to do something spectacular. Shanahan knew he had spectacular coming at quarterback, and still believes he'll get it from his receivers. At running back, he needed someone (a) workmanlike and (b) healthy. Shanahan likes Hightower a lot, but he wasn't sure he'd make it all the way back from the knee surgery. He likes Roy Helu and Evan Royster too, but he didn't think he could trust them to stay healthy, and he was right. One of the best things about Morris, when Shanahan was deciding on a starter in August, was that he was available.

In a lot of ways, that story makes sense for Morris, who still drives his 1991 Mazda 626 (ironically nicknamed "Bentley" by teammates) to practice because he says it keeps him grounded. Morris may be a starting running back and one of the most productive in the league, but he believes he has to prove himself every week. Nobody told him, for instance, when the team signed Ryan Grant last week, that the veteran former Packer was not being brought in to threaten Morris' job. Even if that's the case, Morris is determined not to view it that way.

"I'm in my first year," Morris said. "To have a veteran who's been in the league, that can only help me. I can learn from him, and more competition always helps make everyone better. The way we look at it here, with the backs, any one of us can be a starter. Any one of us can carry the load. With Coach Shanahan, you never know who's going to start the game until game day, and I like it that way. I'm never going to get complacent. I just need to keep working and getting better."

While the Redskins' first-round pick is dazzling the league on a weekly basis, the sixth-round pick is lining up behind him and grinding out yards. Would Morris have liked to be drafted higher? Of course he would have. But he's as grounded as it gets -- and as appreciative.

"Everybody wants to get drafted as high as possible, but the way I look at it, it's a blessing, because not many guys get drafted from 1-11 teams," Morris said. "I wouldn't have it any other way than the way it played out. My opportunity came, and I'm making the most of it."

The perfect marriage of player and situation, is young Alfred Morris and the Redskins. And regardless of Shanahan's reputation as a running back flip-flopper, Morris may just hold onto this job for a long time.