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Washington Redskins: Top 5 Performers of September

Joe VersageCorrespondent IIOctober 5, 2012

Washington Redskins: Top 5 Performers of September

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    October has arrived on the NFL calender and, for the Washington Redskins, it means the second of four quarters is about to begin in the regular season. But thirty days hath September so, before moving forward, let's take a step back to honor the individuals and units that shined during the season's first month.

    Two players have displayed confidence and professionalism that defies their age. Another has been the rock of a defense that has suffered from injuries. And finally, there are two units that have played admirably through injury, criticism and controversy. 

    Can you guess the top five performers from September? 

1. Robert Griffin III

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    Thanks to the NFL, my job got a whole lot easier Thursday, when the league named Robert Griffin III September's Offensive Rookie of the Month.

    Prior to learning of his latest achievement, I was actually thinking of placing Griffin second on our list because he was expected to be in the spotlight—win, lose or draw.

    But RGIII has clearly showed that he is all that he was cracked up to be and more. And after commanding an impressive final drive in Sunday's win over Tampa, he deserves to stand alone on top. 

    In September alone, Griffin threw for 1,070 yards and four touchdowns. He also flashed his speed and mobility by rumbling for 234 rushing yards and four more scores.

    But Griffin's pin-point accuracy has stood out the most. Despite constant pressure, he has completed nearly 70 percent of his passes and according to ESPN, "he's only the third player in NFL history to throw for more than 1,000 yards in the first four weeks of his rookie season." 

    When the Redskins picked Griffin second overall in the draft, head coach Mike Shanahan assumed his skills would be a match for his son Kyle's system. But he probably didn't know that he would fit like a glove. 

    Amid all of the hoopla surrounding his arrival, Griffin has played like a wily veteran, with cool command of a complex offense.

    RGIII has not been perfect, but he's been pretty darn close as the director of a unit that ranks third in the NFL in total yards (1,687), fourth in points (30.8) and first in rushing yards (175.5), per the Washington Post.

    Eat your heart out, Donovan McNabb.

2. Alfred Morris

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    Alfred Morris isn't big and he isn't fast. He didn't attend a prestigious university and he wasn't considered among the best at his position. He still drives a 1991 Mazda and it may be a while before he's offered to star in a TV commercial.

    But Morris has one thing going for him. He's the starting running back of the Washington Redskins, period. And if he continues to play like he played in September, he's going to have job security for quite some time.

    As a rookie sixth-round draft pick from tiny Florida Atlantic, Morris was drafted by the Redskins after being overlooked and under-appreciated by 31 other teams.

    He entered OTAs and mini-camp as the fourth halfback behind veterans Tim Hightower, Roy Helu and Evan Royster. But that was only after coach Mike Shanahan mistook him for being a fullback.

    Then, injuries occurred and Morris got his chance—the rest is history.   

    376 yards and four touchdowns later, Morris is still maturing as a player and a person. But on the field, the 23-year-old is "all business". He's also unafraid to make a statement. Recently, he claimed that he will not be brought down by an initial tackler.

    “I just run,” said Morris, in a recent column by Sports Xchange, via Lindy's Sports. “I refuse to let one person tackle me. It’s all about mindset, that willingness, my desire. You can’t measure a man’s heart.”

    That also means if you're defending Washington's running attack, you better not bring a knife to the gun fight.   

    In all due respect to RGIII, Morris should be the Redskins' September MVP. So far, he's been the star of a "feel good" story that's desperately needed right now in the NFL. At a time when the league has soiled itself with lockouts, suspensions and courtroom dramas, Morris is an underdog athlete, who's using what God gave him to quietly make a difference.

    On Twitter Thursday, Washington Examiner writer John Keim shared inside information on the Redskins' new premiere back.   

     

    Yes, Shanahan likens Morris to another RB he's coached. Won't say who (wink, wink). Adds of Morris: "I think he's got a big-time future."

    — John Keim (@john_keim) October 4, 2012

     

    That sounds a lot like a guy named Terrell Davis, who Shanahan snatched in the sixth-round of the 1995 draft, as coach of the Denver Broncos. 16 years later, "TD" was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

    Last Sunday against Tampa, Morris rumbled for the first 100-yard game of his career. But he's probably more content to hear the praises of his coach.

    “The first guy doesn’t take him down very often and that’s what you’ve got to do to be an elite running back," said Shanahan, in a post-game interview with Redskins announcers Larry Michael and Sonny Jurgensen. "He’s tough as nails and I’m really proud of him.”

    Now all the league has to do is recognize Alfred for being a rookie role model with a very bright future.   

3. Redskins Offensive Line

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    Entering September, Washington's offensive line appeared to be maligned, with training camp injuries that forced a changing of the guards, as well as both tackles.

    But since the return of Kory Lichtensteiger (arthroscopic knee surgery), Chris Chester (ankle sprain) and Trent Williams (foot injury), life has been better for a unit that's responsible for protecting a rookie quarterback that may be the most valuable one in NFL history.

    Prior to the Redskins' season-opener in New Orleans, questions remained about the unit's ability to keep Griffin upright and the running game churning. But against the Saints, the O-Line answered its critics.

    As Mike Jones of The Washington Post points out, there were 'positive early returns', as the line "paved the way for an offense that cranked out 459 total yards (third most in the NFL in Week 1) and 40 points (fifth highest) and gave up just two sacks."

    Since upsetting the Saints, the unit has suffered from numerous false start penalties. It has also given up seven sacks in the past three games. But, five of them came at home against Cincinnati, when the Redskins lost Williams again (to a bone bruise in his right knee).

    Perhaps most impressive has been the line's ability to open holes for rookie phenom Alfred Morris and passing lanes for RGIII. Morris, in particular, has been a natural in Washington's zone-blocking scheme, which demands patience from its backs. 

    With an uncanny knack for breaking tackles, Alfred has amassed nearly four-and-a-half yards per carry, as a "one-cut" nightmare for opposing defenses. But five men deserve credit for leading the charge.

    If Williams, Lichtensteiger, Will Montgomery, Chester and Tyler Polumbus can stay healthy, Morris may even stay competitive for a shot at the NFL's rushing title.  

4. Redskins "Physical" Wide Receivers

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    The play of Washington's offensive line has been pivotal towards the success of its rushing attack. But often overlooked are the contributions of teammates that block at the second level.

    In September, the Redskins proved that they have acquired talent at the receiver position that's not shy about getting physical with linebackers and defensive backs.

    In the offseason, the Redskins signed Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan, both of whom are recognized as good blockers. Meanwhile, second-year pro Leonard Hankerson has learned to hold blocks, while engaging defenders.

    With Washington's tight ends showing steady improvement, it's no wonder the Redskins are ranked second in the NFL in rushing.

    "It's huge," said running back Alfred Morris, via Redskins.com. "A guy once told me that big plays by a running back are directly proportionate to the down-field blocks of the wide receivers and that's the truth.

    "Without those guys, giving that second and third effort, and continuing to make sure the DBs don't get on us, it wouldn't be possible. My touchdown run [against Tampa Bay] wouldn't have been possible without Josh and Hankerson on the back side. They've all been doing a great job and they're going to continue to do it." 

    That fact isn't new to Washington's senior receiver Santana Moss, who knows how important blocking is to coaches Mike and Kyle Shanahan.

     "Everywhere I've been, I've always had to block, but I think with our offense they emphasize us blocking a little more," said Moss, via Rich Campbell of The Washington Times. "I've watched guys for years that that wasn't a part of their game. They're going to catch balls all day, and they'll be out there sissy-footing with the [defensive backs]. Here, coach Shanahan and them don't play that. If you ain't blocking, you ain't going to be on the field."

5. Ryan Kerrigan

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    Ryan Kerrigan must feel like a rock in a hard place. When September began, he teamed with Brian Orakpo to put the fear of God in quarterbacks. But when a recurring injury snuffed out another season for Orakpo, the Redskins turned to Kerrigan to right the ship.

    Ryan's role hasn't changed, but he has stepped up his game to lead the Redskins in sacks with three-and-a-half. That's nearly half the amount he had all of last year (7.5), when he made the NFL's All-Rookie Team.

    “You really can’t put too much pressure on yourself because then you really start to stress out, said Kerrigan, via Mike Jones of The Washington Post. "When I saw ’Rak and [defensive end Adam] Carriker [go] down, at first I started thinking, ‘Okay, I’ve got to do this.’ I was kind of wearing myself out. But I’ve just got to go out there and do my job.”

    Kerrigan has also reached out to subs Rob Jackson and Chris Wilson, who are still getting accustomed to Orakpo's role. 

    But Ryan knows there is a lot of work to be done in October and beyond. Currently, Washington ranks 29th in the league in total defense, with a yield of 1,661 total yards. According to Greg Huseth of BloggingDirty.com, "that includes an absolutely shocking 326.3 yards per game through the air."

    “It’s just been little things, said Kerrigan, via Daniel Zimmet of Redskins.com.  "It’s missed tackles; it’s not being in yo­ur gaps.  Those are correctable things,” Kerrigan said.  “We’ve had some unfortunate penalties. We just have to be smarter, be more disciplined and just not make the penalties.”

    The unit could also use a dose of luck, after losing safety Brandon Meriweather to a freak pregame collision (Sunday), on the very day he was supposed to re-join Kerrigan and his defensive mates.

     

    Joe Versage is an NFL Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. He previously covered the Buffalo BillsWashington Redskins and Baltimore Ravens as a television beat reporter. Follow him on Twitter at: @JoeVersage 

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