The Washington Redskins are beginning a new era in 2012 with the insertion of rookie sensation and Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Robert Griffin under center. However, if one local scribe is to be believed, then that new era is going to begin with the wrong player starting at tailback.
According to Redskins beat writer Mike Jones of the Washington Post, fifth-year pro Tim Hightower, who the team brought back on a one-year contract Saturday, should open the season atop the depth chart in the Washington backfield when the season begins.
"Hightower is coming back from a torn ACL, but Redskins coaches consider him valuable. He’s the most well-rounded of the backs on the roster and a strong leader."
Trying to foretell which running back Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan will "value" from one week to the next is only slightly harder than picking the winning Powerball numbers, but there are at least a couple of reasons why the idea of Hightower as the lead back in the nation's capital isn't ideal.
First, there's the torn ACL that Jones referenced. Hightower reportedly has yet to be cleared by doctors to resume football activities, and it seems woefully premature to be anointing a player as a starter who hasn't even begun trying to juke defenders on a football field yet.
Hightower didn't exactly do a whole of of that on the field last season ever before tearing up his knee. In five starts before the injury, Hightower rushed for only 321 yards, and in only two of those contests did the 25-year-old gain more than three yards a carry.
On the other hand, rookie running back Roy Helu was much more productive when afforded the opportunity to carry the load out of the backfield. The former Nebraska standout averaged a solid 4.2 yards per carry on the season, gained over 1,000 total yards for the year and had five games where he gained over 100 total yards.
This isn't to say that Tim Hightower doesn't have a place in the Washington Redskins offense. Hightower is an excellent receiver and one of the better backs in the National Football League in picking up the blitz. Both of these qualities are very nice to things to have in a third-down back, especially one lining up next to a rookie signal-caller.
We all know that Mike Shanahan likes to rotate running backs more than Pat Sajak likes to rotate the Wheel of freaking Fortune. For once, that rotation would not only seem to make sense, but also be laid out quite nicely for Shanahan to follow.
Bring Helu in on early downs, use fellow second-year pro Evan Royster as a complementary back and insert Hightower into the game in passing situations.
Mike Jones may not agree, but that's the rotation that gives Robert Griffin the best chance to progress as a player and gives the Washington Redskins the best chance to win football games.