The Golden Era of the Redskins running game


Back in the Redskins heyday they were practically of a talent factory. When not building their own stock of linebackers through drafting Monte Coleman, Neil Olkewicz, or Kurt Gouveia, they could dig up a few diamonds in free agency such as Wilbur Marshall and Ken Harvey. A similar statement could be made for the Redskins success in finding cornerbacks to pair with Darrell Green over the two-decade long era of his dominance.

When you are a good team, with good coaches and a good GM it seems easy to keep the wheels turning at your rosters greatest strengths. Just look at the Giants recent collection of defensive ends, or the Patriots carousel of pass receivers.

This is all just a backdrop to begin highlighting the Redskins unheralded yet historical success in the running game. Throughout the franchises history they have maintained a steady backfield that consistently pounds the ball as perhaps no other team could.

During the early Super Bowl days of John Riggins, and Larry Brown before him, the Redskins used their running backs to innovate offensive play calling in a way that is now deeply engrained with the fundamentals of the modern game.

In Joe Gibbs initial era he was able to devise rushing philosophies like the counter-trey, and also install the ever famous flea-flicker. By using the run to set up the pass Joe Gibbs used a sense of fearlessness during late game drives to call running plays in third and long situations. Gibbs would even call six or seven straight run plays on a drive, while Redskins offensive linemen willingly telegraphed their exact intentions to a worn out defense.

By the second Super Bowl the Redskins had armed themselves with Heisman winner George Rogers and versatile receiving back Kelvin Bryant. Bryant and New York Giants contemporary Joe Morris were early versions of today’s Darren Sproles and Deangelo Williams. Yet, even though the Redskins entered their Superbowl with a documented running arsenal, it was the virtually unknown Timmy Smith who stole the show. Smith’s record, 204 rushing yards in the big-game, is still standing a quarter-century later.

From there the list goes on with the dependable Ernest Byner, goal-line specialist Gerald Riggs, and successive draft-picks from 1990 and 1991, Brian Mitchell and Ricky Ervins.

Once exiting the Super Bowl era the Redskins seemed to be able to keep up the pace when drafting would be 1,000yd rookie Reggie Brooks. A fan favorite, Reggie Brooks would fade fast, leaving no ground lost with the corresponding arrival of consummate professional, and bionic-man, Terry Allen.

On two reconstructed knees Terry Allen was an incarnation of John Riggins and would take on the opposing team seemingly by himself. There is no doubt that Terry Allen belongs on the Redskins “Ring of Fame” and would have already secured that honor had he played during a slightly more prosperous era.

Reminiscent of Terry Allen and John Riggins style of play, Washington now relies on stud running back Alfred Morris. For a running back who averages nearly 1,450 yards a season Morris still flies under the radar as he shares top status with a league of running backs who dominate the headlines.

In a way, Morris signified the passing of the running backs torch by voluntarily showing up to Clinton Portis’ retirement speech, where Morris went on to say he grew up a HUGE Clinton Portis fan. Clinton would return the favor by being on hand to see Alfred Morris set the Redskins single-season rushing record, a record that had once belonged to Portis.

If for no other reason than the acquisition of Alfred Morris the last four years have been worth enduring. The investment in Mike Shanahan’s know-how could pay off once more with 2013 draft pick Chris Thompson. In the meantime.

So while the Redskins strong suit hasn’t been to produce “elite” quarterbacks they have a heritage of running backs with many late round diamonds and virtually no outright busts.

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