When Mike Shanahan selected Alfred Morris in the sixth round of the 2012 NFL draft, the natural question was whether or not he had unearthed yet another star runner in the late rounds.
The Shanahan zone-running scheme has helped create success for a number of unheralded runners, with 1995 sixth-round pick and eventual hall-of-famer, Terrell Davis, as the prime example. However, the odds appeared to be stacked against Morris, given the existing numbers in the Washington Redskins' backfield.
The Redskins already have young pair Roy Helu and Evan Royster, both of whom showed some impressive form towards the end of the 2011 campaign. There is also the return of veteran Tim Hightower, who began last season as the starter.
However, Morris used his first taste of competitive action to show that he has the attributes to be a strong contender for regular carries in Washington's rushing attack. Morris rambled for 54 yards on 15 carries, during a positive second-half showing against the Buffalo Bills.
A look at his style and decision-making, show that Morris has real potential as a zone-runner. He was given the ball five straight times on the Redskins, opening second-half possession and demonstrating workhorse capability.
The first two of those carries were particularly impressive. Both came on the zone stretch play, run to the right side.
The first thing that is obvious about Morris is how quick his feet are.
He runs with a foot speed that neither Helu or Royster seem to be able to match. Those quick feet enable Morris to make sharp, sudden cuts. That ability usually creates success in a zone-based scheme.
On his second carry, Morris again made his way to the right only to be hit in the backfield. However, the ex-Florida Atlantic star took the hit and bounced off his would-be tackler to pick up positive yards.
Throughout the game, Morris demonstrated the rare ability to accelerate through initial contact. Being able to fight for extra yards and to aggressively finish runs is vital in any rushing game.
A mistaken perception often applied to zone running is that it works best with speedy, skillful runners. The zone ground game is in fact a power system, designed to wear down and punish a defense. The scheme works best with a shifty runner possessing excellent upper body strength.
Morris showed those attributes, but naturally, any expectations must be tempered by the fact it was the first preseason game; he saw action against second- and third-stringers.
However, given the specific requirements of the Redskins rushing scheme and the wide-open competition for carries, Morris has certainly helped himself with a strong first showing.
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