Helu returned from injury to produce a very positive showing against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Helu rushed for 90 yards on 15 carries and scored two touchdowns.
In doing so, he sparked the Redskins' offense to 30 points and reminded Shanahan that he can be a dynamic starter once the regular season begins. That word "dynamic" is key when describing Helu and analyzing where he might have the edge over Tim Hightower, Alfred Morris and Evan Royster in a crowded backfield competition.
There's no doubt that Helu offers a certain explosiveness that no other runner on the roster can match. He has genuine speed and game-breaking potential. The Redskins love to attack the edges of a run defense with toss and stretch plays, where Helu's field-stretching speed is most effective.
Last night, he averaged six yards a carry. That's an impressive number and further evidence of the natural big-play capability Helu adds to this offense. This quality was sorely lacking from Washington's attack for much of 2011.
However, the irony with Helu is that, despite his speed, one of his biggest problems is that he doesn't make decisions in the backfield as quickly as Morris and Royster. The ex-Nebraska ace often appears content to wait for an obvious gap to develop, rather than making a quick choice and first cut.
Speed of thought and vision are the two most important attributes in Shanahan's zone-blocking scheme. If Helu can't make a quick choice at the line, his speed won't often have the chance to challenge a defense in the open-field.
Of course, staying healthy and giving himself a better chance to learn the nuances of the system can only help Helu get better. Durability has been a concern already during his short time in D.C.
His struggles staying healthy are costly in such a crowded position group and may eventually overshadow his playmaking potential when it comes time to choose a starter. However, the combination of Helu's exciting style with Robert Griffin III's athleticism inside and outside the pocket would surely produce more big plays for what has been a stale Redskins offense.
Indeed, Helu's versatility only strengthens his claim for more starting reps in the Redskins' ground game. He proved himself to be a productive receiver in Week 9 of last season, when he tallied a whopping 14 receptions for 105 yards against a tough San Francisco 49ers defense.
It has long been thought by many, including this author, that the pass-blocking and receiving skills of Hightower make him the favorite to start. However, Rich Tandler of the Washington Times reported that Helu was excellent in both areas against the Buccaneers.
Many have stated that Shanahan likes to rely on a regular rotation policy. However, keeping everyone happy in a committee approach and choosing the right runner for the right opponent are not easy tasks.
Also, continuity is likely to be an important factor for a developing offense, especially one led by a rookie quarterback. Shanahan has not been shy about favoring a clear, featured back once one has emerged.
Helu has reminded everyone that the Redskins coach faces a nice, but still tricky, dilemma with four credible options to choose from.