Washington Redskins: Offensive Success Depends on Roy Helu and Evan Royster
If you're a fan of the NFL, you've likely identified the increasing emphasis on the passing game in relation to reaching the pinnacle of the game. If you're a fan of the Washington Redskins, you've likely identified that they don't have the firepower to sling the ball all over the field and worry opposing defenses with explosive potential
Washington may be preparing, and anxiously awaiting, the arrival of their franchise savior in Robert Griffin III, but it is rare for a rookie quarterback to have perfectly seamless transition to the NFL. As much as the Redskins need Griffin to pull them out of their 20-year funk, so too does Griffin need Helu and Royster to take some of the pressure off in his first pro season.
No one said it would be easy, but the Redskins have the resources to weather whatever storms are sure to come in their season of revival.
After being eased into the lineup last season, Helu displayed great versatility catching passes in addition to carrying the ball. The former Cornhusker and 2011 fourth-round pick struggled in blocking and blitz pickup, but improved as the season progressed en route to earning the starting job with four games left in the season.
If not for an untimely injury, Helu would have finished with some of the best numbers ever produced by a rookie Redskins running back.
Helu had three 100-yard games, one against Seattle's vaunted run defense, and the team record for receptions in a single game before going down early in the season finale versus Philadelphia. It took time before he got his chance, and it was done before Helu could put the exclamation point on his rookie season.
As frustrating as it was to see Mike Shanahan take his time with Helu, it was even more so in Royster's case.
Ryan Torain was supposed to be the contingency plan should Tim Hightower falter or suffer injury, but he mustered just one productive outing in eight games before being waived in late December.
Torain's failure proved to be Royster's chance to shine, which he did in limited action. Royster tallied just 56 carries as a rookie out of Penn State, but his final 29 went for 245 yards to close out the season. Even more promising was the 5.9 yards per carry he averaged late in the season.
With the league slowly favoring teams with a running-back-by-committee system, the Redskins have a tandem with serious potential.
Helu is the more elusive ball-carrier of the pair, but Royster is a better blocker and has arguably better vision to compensate for his lack of elite speed.
It isn't really a question of what their young running backs can do, but the state of the passing game considering the wide open depth chart.
However promising Griffin may be, and however exciting the additions to the receiving corps appear to be, teams can't force chemistry. Griffin is going to need time to develop rapport with his new teammates, in addition to learning a new offense and taking regular snaps from under center.
Griffin has displayed maturity and both a capacity and willingness to learn, but that doesn't guarantee a struggle-free rookie campaign.
On top of the typical growing pains for a rookie quarterback, there is the possibility that Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan don't add much to the receiving corps. Or for Fred Davis (and Trent Williams) to slip up and lose a season due to a drug suspension.
There is far too much uncertainty in the passing game at this juncture to expect anything other than a steady dose of Helu and Royster.
Since arriving in Washington, the Shanahans have emphasized moving the pocket to spread the defense and create openings downfield. If the ground game is working, add the potential for play-action to the equation. Not only would Griffin's first year be simplified with a successful running game, it downright depends on it.
The offensive line didn't wow anyone with their pass protection, allowing 41 sacks between Rex Grossman and John Beck—bad enough for third-worst in the NFL.
Washington can't afford to let Griffin take the kind of hits his predecessors were subject to.
It is certainly an exciting time to be a Redskins fan with a potential franchise quarterback all but signed and suited up. But all that excitement could come crashing down if the offense can't keep defenses honest with a productive rushing attack.
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