Redskins camp battles: Third-down back

RICHMOND, VA. -- The starting job isn’t up for grabs, which is wise considering that player is a guy who has rushed for nearly 3,000 yards in his first two seasons combined. But Alfred Morris can’t do everything and even though the Redskins want him to catch more passes, they also want more help on third downs -- someone who is capable of stinging defenses with long runs.

“We need another back to emerge as that third-down back,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said.

Here’s how they’ve looked thus far:

Roy Helu: He’s more than just a third-down guy because he can handle the every-down work should something happen to Morris. The only other back who could say the same thing right now is Evan Royster and he’s in a big fight to win a roster spot. But Helu offers the size -- and experience -- that the other contenders do not. He’s looked fine in camp, but it’s hard for running backs to really stand out because you can’t see their impact on defenders in terms of making them miss. But Helu catches the ball well and knows the run game. Smaller, shiftier backs would do well when the Redskins go to their spread, but Helu will help.

Chris Thompson: He’s the one who has emerged to this point (long way to go folks) because it’s clear he’s feeling more comfortable. He's also faster, one year further removed from his torn ACL in college. He’s resembled the runner he was in college more than he ever did last summer. For the most part, Thompson has caught the ball well and did a solid job in the pass protection drills Monday, a day after he was disappointed in his showing. If Thompson proves he can stay durable in camp -- it’s a huge issue for him -- he’ll stay productive. He’s taken snaps with the first offense in nickel situations this week.

Lache Seastrunk: Still learning and it shows. He’s dropped a few passes (a knock on him in college despite not having a big role in the pass game) and his protection has been inconsistent. The latter is to be expected; most young backs entering the NFL have issues in this area, and it’s why the Redskins felt he would need time to develop. Seastrunk’s speed is impressive, but it’s hard to say we’ve seen what he can do in that area. I’m curious to see him in a game. At times, I’ve seen him make a guy miss with a quick cut, but it's been nothing like his college tape. He’s behind Thompson at this point. The question is, how many backs will they keep?

Evan Royster: Not the dynamic back the Redskins want as the third-down guy. Royster still couldn’t practice Monday afternoon because of a hamstring issue. He’s good insurance, but if they’re looking for a “Darren Sproles type” as Robert Griffin III called Thompson the other day, then Royster is in trouble. He could be a backup somewhere, but he’s part of a crowded backfield right now. Not sure what he does that will separate him from the crowd, given that his strength is as a move-the-chains runner, and they have a better one in Morris. He does not catch the ball or handle the third-down duties better than Helu, and he's not a home-run threat like, potentially, Thompson or Seastrunk. Royster is insurance, and there's always one back who seems to have injury issues in camp so you keep him around just in case.

Silas Redd: He’s flashed his talents on occasion, enough to want to see him in games. But, again, you can’t go overboard at all when watching the backs. You need to see them against live tacklers to see the extra yards they create. Morris, for example, showed it again the other day when he lowered his shoulder into a tackler (getting lower than the defender) and drove forward for a few more yards. Those yards add up. Redd needs work in protection; he had his head too low on one block and allowed the linebacker to run through him on another.