Alfred Morris is the kind of workhorse that most teams only have one of. Sure, there are many players who love the game, train hard and focus on the small details, but it’s a rare few who quietly go about their business while striving to prove they’re the best.
Morris’ track record shows that over two years he is as accomplished as any other back in the league, and while all of that is nice, this year is a new year where everyone will begin again at zero. If there’s one thing he can do in 2014 to separate himself, it’s in the passing game. “My focus is building confidence in the quarterbacks as well as the coaches to let them know I can catch. I know I can catch the ball,” Morris told the media recently.
Based on Jay Gruden’s play calling from last season, Redskins running backs will be seeing more opportunities to get the ball downfield. It would be hasty to dub Gruden as the architect behind Giovani Bernards stellar rookie season in Cincinnati last year, the then offensive coordinator more are less just worked with what he was given. Bernard came into the NFL after averaging nearly 200 all-purpose-yards a game his final year at North Carolina. By last years end he finished 3rd in receiving for the Bengals by accruing 56 receptions for 514 yards.
A more reasonable estimation for Morris would probably be a 25 reception season, (for a bruising 200+ yards) which seems a high estimate in light of his 20 career receptions thus far, but Morris considers himself an every-down back and has set out during OTAs to make a new standard for himself.
The main competition for receptions will be Roy Helu, a well established talent at making catches who returned from injury last season to have 62 carries along with 31 receptions. Helu’s most memorable moment of last season came during a Week 4 visit to Oakland where he seemed to single handedly close out the Raiders with a sleeper hold. He began his assault with a 28-yard catch and run that wasn’t over till he hurdled the entire Raiders defense. So while Morris isn’t yet known for hurdling opponents, he is more of a mismatch in any one-on-one situation his eleven opponents can offer, much less a defensive back (or two).
It will be interesting to see how the ball gets spread out, and how a little down field blocking from Niles Paul and his fellow tight ends could break open some huge gains. The show of hands will also offer a chance for bubble players to make a case for a spot on the team. Evan Royster will have a go at Silas Redd, and Lache Seastrunk was drafted in part to challenge Chris Thompson. Royster has the inside track when it comes to making plays as a receiver.
Gruden and the Bengals didn’t have a history of as many throws to running back before last season, and who knows how patient a coordinator has to be before they can implement radical changes to the scheme. Now that Gruden is the man in charge he can expand without limitation. We can only expect that tough competition will breed solid execution, but what Gruden has in mind for next season might be something entirely new.
The Redskins don’t have to replicate Bernard’s performance from last season, as versatility already exists in their backfield, not to mention that RGIII will be offered new ways to extend plays should his running backs become consistent receiving threats. All anyone has seen from Alfred Morris is that he gets better with every carry, with his 2012 draft mate throwing him the ball more a juggernaut might be born.