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Homer: Redskins ground game is ready to break out


themurf

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(photo by Brian Murphy)

The more I think about it, the more I’m blown away by the radical overhaul head coach Mike Shanahan has given to the Washington Redskins.

Even though he’s only been in town for less than two full seasons, Shanahan has transformed the roster from one of the oldest in the NFL to a much younger, more competitive version.

Sure, there’s plenty of work left to be done – something even Shanahan would be quick to admit – but the Redskins are already in much better shape than when he arrived.

Take, for example, the team’s rushing attack.

In the final game of the Jim Zorn era, Washington’s ground game featured the forgettable trio of Rock Cartwright, Quinton Ganther and Marcus Mason.

With established veterans such as Clinton Portis and Ladell Betts injured, these three unheralded backs did little to stake their claim to a starting job.*

*Ganther, Mason and Cartwright combined for 58 yards on 19 carries against San Diego’s back-ups in the 2009 season finale. The Chargers had already locked up a playoff spot and were content to mail in the game, and yet, these three could barely muster three yards a carry.

In Shanahan’s first season in Washington, the two-time Super Bowl winning coach was confident he could recreate the potent ground game that defined his 18 seasons in Denver.

When training camp began, the Redskins backfield featured Portis, Larry Johnson, Willie Parker and Ryan Torain. Three impressive resumes and an intriguing youngster who showed flashes while battling injuries.

Well, ‘Skins fans know what happened next. Johnson and Parker looked so bad, they both failed to make the 53-man roster and Portis, once again, finished the season on injured reserve.

Torain, who essentially won the starting job by default, looked good when healthy, and finished the season with 742 yards and four touchdowns.

Unfortunately for everyone involved, Torain was the only player in the backfield to put up any sort of numbers and the Redskins’ rushing game finished the season ranked 30th in the league.

That point can’t be over emphasized – a Mike Shanahan rushing attack finished 30th* in the NFL.

*Suck it, Seattle and Arizona.

Put it this way: in 24 seasons of coaching, Shanahan’s ground game has ranked in the top 10 a mind-numbing 17 times.

Before coming to Washington, Shanahan’s worst rushing attack came in 1986 – when a 34-year-old Shanahan was the offensive coordinator of a Broncos team featuring the one-two punch of Sammy Winder and Gerald Willhite.

And yet, even though you’ve never heard of either of those gentlemen, the Broncos still managed to rank 20th in the NFL in rushing yards that year.

Here’s the stomach punch – the ’86 Broncos outrushed the ’10 Redskins by 217 yards.

So yeah, there was plenty of room for improvement heading into 2011.

This is where the story gets good for ‘Skins fans. Rather than repeating last year’s mistake and chasing name players with little left in the tank, Shanahan and friends targeted younger, hungrier players with something to prove.

Portis was released, and the Redskins avoided signing guys like Ronnie Brown, Ricky Williams, Marion Barber and Willis McGahee.

Instead, Washington selected two running backs – Nebraska’s Roy Helu Jr. and Penn State’s Evan Royster – and traded Vonnie Holliday to Arizona for Tim Hightower.

Add in Torain and suddenly the Redskins have a stable of four backs all 25 or younger.

Click here for the full article.

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I don't know what the deal is with him, but the comments section is quickly filling up with flame for him. Great read as usual.

You wouldn't know it because he's been known to disappear for a year or two at a time, but Art is a founding father of this message board. He also covers games with me for ES. Like I said on my site, he doesn't believe half of what he writes on the internet, but he does it to get a rise out of folks. Either way, he's a great dude who I enjoy arguing with.

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Great read as always. I am totally looking forward to these guys and hope for continued success.

But let's give credit where credit is due. Larry Johnson DID make the 53 man roster. But now let's take that credit and bash this soft ass for his great effort of 5 carries for 2 yards. Nice effort. What a waste.

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Larry Johnson DID make the 53 man roster. But now let's take that credit and bash this soft ass for his great effort of 5 carries for 2 yards. Nice effort. What a waste.

You're absolutely right. I've made the update on my website and apologize for the error. I'm better than that. Thanks for the assist.

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Y'know, while we have had plenty of reasons to bash the "media" it pays to remember that you are part of that demographic and give us all reason to rethink that kneejerk bias. Your work has been simply outstanding murf.

An Art sighting is fun no matter the context, even better when people take him seriously and get their panties in a bunch.

I still feel that even with the way last season turned out it was still part of the overall Shanaplan, McNabb notwithstanding. He and Allen have been assembling solid pieces to make this team function, particularly line upgrades and stable of backs to establish the running game. Everything else will flow from that, which is why I see them going w/ Rex or Beck, QBs that know the plan and can implement it and not have to be Bradyesque superstars.

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Y'know, while we have had plenty of reasons to bash the "media" it pays to remember that you are part of that demographic and give us all reason to rethink that kneejerk bias. Your work has been simply outstanding murf.

An Art sighting is fun no matter the context, even better when people take him seriously and get their panties in a bunch.

I still feel that even with the way last season turned out it was still part of the overall Shanaplan, McNabb notwithstanding. He and Allen have been assembling solid pieces to make this team function, particularly line upgrades and stable of backs to establish the running game. Everything else will flow from that, which is why I see them going w/ Rex or Beck, QBs that know the plan and can implement it and not have to be Bradyesque superstars.

That's very kind of you to say. I've always enjoyed being a part of such a supportive community like ES and look forward to the discussions that often times come from writing something like this. I will say though, I think a lot of the folks covering the Redskins now and really good at what they do. I'm a fan of Mike Jones and Rick Maese from the Post, Rich Campbell from the Times and John Keim is the best of the bunch. I also like newcomers like Daniel Shiferaw from SB Nation DC and Jack Anderson from NBC Washington.

We're lucky to have so many talented writers on the Redskins beat.

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Murf.

I did not write that on your site. I have never visited your site. I read everything you put here, but stop when you have me click off. Someone did that with my ES mail address and Terl too. I'm in Minnesota. Do a WHOIS on that IP address in the post on your site. I suspect you'll find it to be someone else. Heck, I used to be able to match IPs. I should scan this board to see who it might be.

The post on your site is also ridiculous. Indeed, the Colts defensive idea was to allow a short running game, but, by having 7 back in umbrella around the field as they do, it is specifically designed to prevent the big running play, or big play whatsoever. Anyone who thinks they ran a defense designed to give up 50-yard-gains is a moron.

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You wouldn't know it because he's been known to disappear for a year or two at a time, but Art is a founding father of this message board. He also covers games with me for ES. Like I said on my site, he doesn't believe half of what he writes on the internet, but he does it to get a rise out of folks. Either way, he's a great dude who I enjoy arguing with.

Oh, its that Art. Thanks for cluing me in.

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Indeed, the Colts defensive idea was to allow a short running game, but, by having 7 back in umbrella around the field as they do, it is specifically designed to prevent the big running play, or big play whatsoever. Anyone who thinks they ran a defense designed to give up 50-yard-gains is a moron.

No but this is the Colts Defense...long on pass rushers and the biggest non secret about the Defense is it sucks against the rush

Anyone putting alot into the fact that we had those two rushes of 50+ yards in my opinion is also a moron

It's not that those were bad plays but this is the preseason.

Question for the forum...who last rushed for a 50+ yard gain for us in the regular season?

Gimmie answer - Ryan Torain last years game against the Bucs

Now the real question for the forum....When was the last time we saw two guys have 50 yard rushes in a regular season game?

Point is until the season starts while it may look like we have a better group of RB's at this point of the year imo our best rusher is injured, his backup has fumbling issues and is lacking in blocking skills not to mention was phased out of the game plan on his last team, and behind them are two completely unknown rookies. I'd say to some of you that what's needed now is to remind yourselves that we go up against the Giants week one with this group. Tamper some expectations people and don't get ahead of yourselves. It's only the preseason and that was only the Colts...who mind you were ranked 25th rush defense and who gave up an average of 127 rushing yards per game last year. The Giants meanwhile were ranked 8th overall for rushing defense and only gave up 101 yards per game. If these guys can do it against the Giants then we have something. Not until

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I'm excited about the prospects of our running game. I think Helu has real star potential. Hightower is a solid guy too, but I think as the season goes on, he'll be more a 3rd down back and Helu will be our main guy. I really like what I've seen from Royster too. He's a good backup to have incase something happens to Helu or Hightower.

I guess the forgotten guy in all of this is Torain. He picked a terrible time to be injured. What do we do with Torain? Do we keep 4 RBs? If we PS Royster, I'm sure someone will pick him up. I guess its a good problem to have and one we haven't had for a long time.

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I'm excited about the prospects of our running game. I think Helu has real star potential. Hightower is a solid guy too, but I think as the season goes on, he'll be more a 3rd down back and Helu will be our main guy. I really like what I've seen from Royster too. He's a good backup to have incase something happens to Helu or Hightower.

I guess the forgotten guy in all of this is Torain. He picked a terrible time to be injured. What do we do with Torain? Do we keep 4 RBs? If we PS Royster, I'm sure someone will pick him up. I guess its a good problem to have and one we haven't had for a long time.

Honestly, the forgotten guy in the discussion is Keiland Williams. I wrote 1,100 words about the running backs and didn't even bother to include him in the mix. Torain will at least be on the roster when the season starts. Not sure the same can be said about Williams. And it's impossible to say how many running backs the team will keep until things get sorted out elsewhere. It all depends on how many receivers after Moss, Armstrong, Gaffney and Hankerson make the cut and how many fullbacks/tight ends survive to the 53-man roster.

---------- Post added August-23rd-2011 at 01:04 PM ----------

For the record, the originating IP came from the following building:

Address: 3635 Concorde Parkway

Address: Suite 200

City: Chantilly

StateProv: VA

PostalCode: 20151

Again. I live in Minnesota.

You realize you're the only ES member around who people would even try to impersonate, right? No one goes around pretending to be JimmiJo or Tarhog.

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Amazing people still care enough to impersonate me considering I've been gone as long as I have.

Imagine if I stay this time and again take over the minds of the wee people as I did before. It'll be wondrous.

I am surprised you actually thought that was me.

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I'm excited about the prospects of our running game. I think Helu has real star potential. Hightower is a solid guy too, but I think as the season goes on, he'll be more a 3rd down back and Helu will be our main guy. I really like what I've seen from Royster too. He's a good backup to have incase something happens to Helu or Hightower.

I guess the forgotten guy in all of this is Torain. He picked a terrible time to be injured. What do we do with Torain? Do we keep 4 RBs? If we PS Royster, I'm sure someone will pick him up. I guess its a good problem to have and one we haven't had for a long time.

Given the run-heavy nature I expect from our offense this year, would it be out of the question to use an extra roster spot to carry 4 RBs like you suggest? RB injuries are common, and having all 4 of those guys ready to go makes me smile.

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Shanny looks like he found the right guys on the o-line for his ZBS. I think we'll see significant improvement over last year. The only one I am worried about is Trent Williams. He needs to step up a lot more to make this unit grade A. Excited to see us try our run game against the NFC east. Hopefully Shanny can show em something.

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