Washington Redskins Entering 2012 Without a True No. 1 Back

Scott FitzGeraldCorrespondent IMay 16, 2012

LANDOVER, MD - SEPTEMBER 18: Running back Tim Hightower #25 of the Washington Redskins eludes Arizona Cardinals defenders in the second quarter at FedExField on September 18, 2011 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Patrick Smith/Getty Images

For those of you who made it past the title before running to the comments section to call me an idiot, I thank you. 

At first blush, you may think from the headline that I’m down on the Redskins’ running back prospects for the 2012 season. 

In fact, it’s quite the opposite. 

I’m like Daniel Snyder on the eve of free agency in the early 2000s: giddy with excitement minus the ability to write multiple blank checks.

Starting out the 2011 season, it was clear that Tim Hightower was the ‘Skins No. 1 back. He had the experience and all-around ability at the position that the team was looking for. Many people thought Ryan Torain was going to challenge Hightower, but the health issues that have plagued him throughout his NFL tenure would cause Torain to get off to a very slow start last year. Eventually each player’s season would be completely undermined by injuries. 

While two doors were closed last season, two more opened up. For Roy Helu Jr. and Evan Royster, there was no time last season to sit back and learn the game from afar. Each player was thrust into significant playing time. Helu Jr. made his way from third on the depth chart to starter by November, and Royster went from practice squad to backup following Tashard Choice’s release.

Injuries are certainly never a good thing. But in this situation, Hightower’s absence afforded the Redskins the ability to confirm that the two picks the spent last March were well worth it. Coming into their sophomore campaigns, Helu Jr. and Royster both proved that they are quality backs capable of starting in the NFL. 

Now that Tim Hightower has re-signed with Washington, the team finds itself with an overabundance of talent. The RB corp in DC is among the best, if not the best, group in the NFC East. That’s not to say that any one of DC’s running backs are independently better than LeSean McCoy, DeMarco Murray or Ahmad Bradshaw. But the corps as a whole could be the best in the division. 

We’re still months away from training camp, but Mike Shanahan finds himself in a great position. All three backs are capable of starting, getting 20-plus carries a game and providing Robert Griffin III with a receiving option out of the backfield. 

Plenty of people are vigorously debating now who should be the starter going into Week 1. To that end I’d say they don’t need a starter. The team doesn’t need to declare a workhouse back because it has the talent to truly have a running back by committee (RBBC). 

Many teams take the RBBC approach when they lack talent in their running game or if they don’t rely heavily on the run game. The Redskins, however, have a group of backs who can function like an All-Star bullpen in baseball. Each back can be called into the game to highlight his strengths in a given situation without overworking or becoming overly dependent on one back.

Hightower is great in the passing game, whether it’s receiving or pass blocking. Helu Jr. has a great bounce outside and excels at the one-cut. Royster can navigate the rugged terrain between the tackles and can get the necessary yards when it’s third and short. 

My one request of the Shanahans heading into training camp and the regular season is to cater the offense to each back’s strengths. Highlight all three of them and they will flourish in the roles. 

The team ended the 2011 season without a 1,000-yard rusher, and I would look for that to happen again this year. However, I anticipate the team cracking the top-10 in rushing with three backs either approaching or passing 600 yards for the year and a quarterback with world-class speed.

The Washington Redskins will begin the 2012 season without an official starting running back, and that’s fine by me. 


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