Washington Redskins: No Room for Feature Back in Crowded Backfield

Matthew BrownCorrespondent IAugust 4, 2012

LANDOVER, MD - DECEMBER 04:  Roy Helu #29 of the Washington Redskins carries the ball against the New York Jets at FedExField on December 4, 2011 in Landover, Maryland.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Rob Carr/Getty Images

Though the media has its eyes locked on Robert Griffin III, there's a compelling story brewing in the Redskins backfield. There's no shortage of talent between Evan Royster, Tim Hightower and Roy Helu Jr., but talent isn't the issue that the Redskins may face this season.

As capable as each of the Redskins running backs may be, there's no room for one, unquestioned, feature back in this offense.

By virtue of having a rookie quarterback stepping in as the unquestioned starter, the Redskins will have to lean heavily on their running game. However, none of the running backs expected to make the roster played a full slate of games last season.

Helu battled injury late in the year, Royster was delayed coming off the practice squad, and Hightower went down for the season when he tore his ACL against Carolina.

The injuries sustained last season by Helu and Hightower are not necessarily cause for concern in the long-term, but it may affect how they are used for the coming season. Mike Shanahan has options, and he has shown in the past that he is not afraid to ride the hot hand, or spell his running backs.

However healthy the backfield may be, the availability of a better back for the game plan or a fresher set of legs means no one running back is getting the lion's share of carries.

Kyle Shanahan is entering his fifth year as an offensive coordinator, but in that short time, he has managed to produce just one 1,000-yard rusher in Steve Slaton. Since that season in 2008, no running back in his offense has rushed for more than 750 yards.

Ryan Torain rushed for 742 yards in 2010 but failed to reproduce his success last season before being sent packing.

Aside from the system, and the play-calling, the running backs themselves have not established themselves as feature backs. Helu and Royster were rookies thrust into starting roles because of the loss of Hightower and failures of Torain.

Hightower was supposed to be the go-to guy but struggled to find running lanes and had to fight for his meager 3.8 yards per carry.

Helu looked promising in limited action before being elevated to starter following Hightower's injury and Torain's departure. He led the Redskins in rushing with 642 yards, while averaging a respectable 4.2 yards per carry.

Helu's season was cut short, but not before he set the Redskins rookie record for receptions in a game (14) and put together three consecutive 100-yard performances.

Royster got the call with Helu sidelined, and he finished the season with a pair of 100-yard games, while averaging a stellar 5.9 yards per carry. He bounced off would-be tacklers, found running lanes and gave the Redskins yet another weapon for the future.

None of them have the experience to be considered unquestioned starters, and what would it matter if they did become the starter?

What it comes down to in the Shanahan offense is who has the hot hand. It does not matter who starts the season or starts the most games, because barring injuries, Hightower, Royster and Helu will be splitting carries and snaps throughout the year.

The Redskins have plenty of talent in their backfield, and each player will have ample opportunities to show their abilities week in and week out. They'll just have to get used to sharing the spotlight with one another.