Going into head coach Mike Shanahan’s first training camp in Washington, his selection at running back was a trio of aging stars in Clinton Portis, Larry Johnson and Willie Parker. Parker didn’t make the team, Johnson didn’t make it for long, and Portis spent most of the season in the training room.
The running game struggled with the rest of the offense, gaining only 1,461 yards on the ground.
Already in 2011, Tim Hightower and Roy Helu have combined for 246 yards, which puts them on pace for more than 2,000 yards on the ground this season.
While Hightower may be the primary back on the depth chart, Shanahan explained that Helu has a defined role in this offense.
“What I think you’ll see throughout the year–not just at the running back position, but at the wide receiver position and tight end position as well,” he said, “is that sometimes people get tired.”
I’ve heard that this happens at other positions as well, but no confirmation.
“You want everybody that’s playing to be close to 100 percent, and sometimes it’s a good change-up,” Shanahan explained. “Especially if your guy gets a few carries and he looks a little tired, to put somebody else in. Give [one player] a chance to recover, and another to show people what he can do.”
This is a delicate strategy for Shanahan, who has to take Hightower’s history into account. Already in 2011, Hightower has rushed 45 times, good for second in the league (Ben Tate, 47). In 2010 with Arizona, Hightower rushed a career-high 153 times, and did not reach 45 rushes until the end of Week 5 (46).
How Shanahan is able to pace Hightower is largely dependent on the success and development of Helu.
“When you get a guy like Helu, you don’t know why guys make plays, but the great ones do,” he said of the 2011 fourth-round pick. “It’s going to be an ongoing evaluation of him. Can he pick up blitzes? Can he hold onto the football? I was pleased with what he has done thus far through the preseason and our second regular season game. Hopefully, he just continues to grow.”
Check out yesterday’s full Shanahan media address below:
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