BEREA: Make the team out of training camp.
That’s all Washington Redskins rookie running back Alfred Morris was thinking about after hearing his name called in the sixth round of the NFL Draft in April.
The Redskins made Morris the 173rd pick out of Florida Atlantic University.
Just make the team out of training camp. Once in the door, who knows what can happen?
What the 5-foot-10, 218-pound Morris didn’t realize at the time was that Redskins coach Mike Shanahan was about to help mold another under-the-radar running back into a household name along the lines of Terrell Davis, Olandis Gary, Mike Anderson and Clinton Portis.
“I knew about the history, but I wasn’t thinking about a big year,” Morris said. “My initial thought was being thankful to be drafted and, two, just make the team. I wasn’t guaranteed a spot on this team, so I had to bust my butt in camp. My goal was to make the team, just make the team. And after that, the opportunity will come. When it does, make the most of it.”
Morris has already made the most of his opportunity, rushing for 1,228 yards and seven touchdowns on 253 carries heading into today’s game against the Browns.
He has produced the most prolific rookie rushing season in team history, eclipsing Reggie Brooks’ previous team record of 1,063 yards set in 1993.
“[Morris] runs hard,” Browns strong safety T.J. Ward said. “He’s a one-cut-and-go runner. He doesn’t have too much shake, but he’s very powerful and breaks a lot of tackles. We’ve just got to wrap up, make sure we get a couple helmets on him every time. When you start hitting running backs, most of the time, they seem not to run as hard.”
Morris’ one-cut style fits perfectly into Shanahan’s zone running scheme. An added bonus is Morris’ ability to shed would-be tacklers, ranking first in the league with 17 broken tackles and third in rushing yards after contact (608).
“You watch him and he’s not going to give you a bunch of moves,” Browns linebacker D’Qwell Jackson said. “He’s a downhill, one-cut style guy — that works in the NFL. You attack your hole, make one cut and lean forward. Watch him on tape and very rarely is he going backwards. He’s going forwards most of the time.”
Morris is second in the NFL in rushing yards among rookie running backs and fourth overall. He has combined with rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III to give the Redskins a formidable attack.
“He’s a power runner who complements that offense well,” Jackson said. “He allows RG3 to make his throws because it sucks the entire defense up when you’re running, running, running, then hit ’em with a play-action for 20 yards. That puts a lot of stress on a defense.”
Led by Morris and Griffin, the Redskins lead the NFL in rushing at 167.5 yards per game.
“The combination of the two of them together benefits each of them,” Browns defensive coordinator Dick Jauron said. “They seem to have a good feel for what they’re trying to do, they execute it really well and the running back is a huge part of it. He is a really committed runner. He doesn’t make a lot of bad reads, he hits the hole and he’s hard to tackle. They pose a lot of problems.”
Morris and Griffin have injected a new dynamic into the Redskins’ offense.
“I am very confident in myself,” Morris said. “I knew what I was capable of doing and I waited for my opportunity and rolled with the punches. People looked at me and said I wouldn’t be this or I wouldn’t be that. I never listened to those naysayers. I just believed in myself and went out and did my job.”