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Running Back Carousel Spun By Injury


Going into the final preseason game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the biggest roster question left unanswered was starting running back.

The leader in the group was Tim Hightower, a trade acquisition last season that carried the load before tearing his ACL.  Second-year back Roy Helu Jr. led the team in rushing last year, but was beset by Achilles and turf toe injuries that hobbled him in the final weeks of the season.

Evan Royster appeared to have an inside track after starting the final two games of the 2011 season, but also battled offseason injuries.  The only other logical option was 2012 sixth-round draft pick Alfred Morris, who showed grit and uncommon confidence in preseason action.

When the Redskins take the field in Tampa Bay this Sunday--exactly one month later--the picture at running back will look dramatically different. 

Morris won the starting job outright, and has averaged 88 yards and a touchdown through the first three weeks.

Royster has been a contributor on  offense, while overcoming a nagging knee injury.

Hightower did not make the final 53-man roster, and is said to be having an arthroscopic procedure on his surgically-repaired knee.

Helu Jr. never recovered from the lower leg injuries that ended his rookie campaign, and was placed on injured reserve Wednesday.

Enter grizzled veteran Ryan Grant, signed Wednesday, who is one of only 16 active running backs with 4,000 career rushing yards.

Grant met with the media for the first time yesterday, and confirmed that he had offers from multiple teams, but chose the Redskins based on the best opportunity.

"A lot of things went into [the decision to come to Washington], but it wasn't necessarily more guarantee [of playing time]," he said.  "I feel like there was an opportunity here, definitely."

Head coach Mike Shanahan discussed the available options at running back and said Hightower was his first choice, but the team moved aggressively after Grant when he was no longer an option.

"I think he fits with what we do," Shanahan said of Grant.  "He is big and fast and he has some experience. He is a very sharp kid who picks things up very quickly.

"At this time of the year, you need guys who have a little bit of experience. I think he is a guy in a couple weeks time probably could learn the system fairly quickly and help us."

In addition to boosting a running game that ranks second in the NFL with 180.7 yards per game, Grant will also be expected to fit the scheme and pass protect.

"Offensively with the zone scheme, I have that comfort level here," Grant said.  "I had a great record, pass protection-wise, at Green Bay. If you watch the film, you just know that I'm confident in it."

Grant's career began lining up behind one of the all-time greats in Brett Favre, but his pass protection was tested when Aaron Rodgers took the reins in Green Bay.

Starting 15 games in Green Bay last season, Grant and the Packers scored an NFL-best 560 points.  In 2012, he hopes to help the Redskins' top-ranked scoing offense on the ground and through the air.

"I was fortunate to be [in Green Bay] with great quarterbacks and during the development of Aaron [Rodgers], and I think Aaron will speak highly of me," Grant said.  "I'm looking forward to helping out [Robert] Griffin III and just helping this team win."

With Royster limited in practice yesterday with a knee injury, Grant may get opportunity sooner than expected. With only three backs on the roster, Grant could be the No. 2 option vs. the Buccaneers.

Morris told the media Thursday that he greets Grant's addition as competition that can help everyone get better.

"Adding Ryan Grant to the stable of backs we already have is definitely going to make all of us better," he said.  "I hold myself to a high standard; we all hold ourselves to a high standard, and go out and compete everyday. 

"Nothing is promised, especially in this league. He's a great competitor and we want to continue to push each other. May the best man stay in the backfield."




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