Tim Hightower's return bodes well for the prospects of the Washington Redskins offense this season. Despite his injury situation, if Hightower can prove his fitness in camp, he should be named the starter.
Despite the positive performances of Roy Helu and Evan Royster as rookies in 2011, Hightower gives the Redskins the best chance to win with a first-year quarterback. His veteran savvy and multiple skill set will make the four-year pro an invaluable resource for Robert Griffin.
Hightower has the receiving and pass-blocking ability to be an asset in Kyle Shanahan's schemes. Those very schemes are the reason Hightower makes the most sense as Washington's starter for the 2012 season.
Helu is also an able receiver and a more explosive runner, while Royster is tough between the tackles. However, the Redskins didn't draft Griffin to operate a run-first offense.
As much as this author believes the Redskins should lean heavily on the run, the kind of bounty paid to Griffin is only given up for a quarterback a team believes is a game-winner. After parting with a second-round choice and two future first-rounders to take Griffin no.2 overall, the Redskins will win on the strength of his arm and natural playmaking ability.
That makes Hightower a natural fit for the starter's role in the backfield. His proficiency in diagnosing and picking up the blitz will be essential against teams sure to test Griffin's reaction to multiple pressures.
Those pass-protection skills are the one clear advantage Hightower has over most of his competition. Helu certainly offers a similar receiving threat, yet Hightower's strength perhaps gives him a slight edge as a runner.
It is a common misconception that Mike Shanahan's zone running game requires quick, elusive backs. The truth is that the system functions best with a power runner.
Clinton Portis, Terrell Davis, Mike Anderson and Reuben Droughns all excelled thanks to their ability to overpower—as well as evade—would-be tacklers. At 6'0" and 222 pounds, Hightower has the frame to pound out yards inside when necessary.
Shanahan emphasised the run during his glory years with the Denver Broncos. However, that was with an ageing John Elway and an elite runner like Davis. Nobody in the Redskins backfield rotation has yet shown themselves to be another Terrell Davis.
Although Hightower's one-year deal may not appear to be a vote of confidence, if the Redskins were really confident in their young running backs, then why bring Hightower back at all? If he demonstrates a good recovery, Hightower's experience should give him the edge at a crowded position.