“I’m very durable. I was made for this . . . I’m a workhorse. Whether it’s a big load or a light load, it really doesn’t matter. I’m just here to do whatever it takes to help my team win.”
— Redskins running back Alfred Morris, last Friday
One of the intriguing questions heading into the 2014 season is what the Washington version of Jay Gruden’s offense will look like. As I’ve said before, and with all due respect to the elite talent of A. J. Green, Gruden has a better overall group of offensive skill players at his disposal now than he did in Cincinnati.
Ah, but how will he use them? Much has already been said and written about whether there will be “enough footballs to go around,” with weapons like DeSean Jackson, Alfred Morris, Pierre Garcon and Jordan Reed in the mix, not to mention effective role players like Roy Helu and newcomers like Andre Roberts.
One concern about Morris is that he’s already racked up a lot of mileage during his brief NFL tenure. He’s only 25, with two seasons under his belt, but Morris has 611 carries (plus 20 receptions) during those two years. That’s a heavy load, but when asked about the durability issue, Morris was quick to dispense with any notion that he can’t handle being a “workhorse.”
More intriguing to me is how Gruden’s philosophy fits into this scenario.
It’s worth noting that Morris’ carries dropped off a bit last year, partially as a result of Washington’s decreased offensive output and, perhaps, partially due to a recognition that 300-carry seasons will burn out a running back quickly in the modern NFL. His carries dropped by over 17 percent, which was probably a good thing.
Even if there are no durability issues in play whatsoever, will we see even more drop-off under Gruden? To be clear, I fully accept the premise that Morris can handle 250-plus touches. I also accept that Gruden himself has said he wants to get Morris the ball as much as possible. On top of that, the Redskins’ multifaceted receiving corps should give Morris more opportunities in the running game.
Yet, even with all that in mind, Gruden seemed to move toward a preference for a two-back approach during his time Cincinnati. Last season, BenJarvus Green-Ellis started every game for the Bengals, but got 224 touches to Giovani Bernard’s 226.
I’ve pointed out this even split before, and it raises the obvious question: Will Gruden let Morris get the lion’s share of the touches, or will players like Helu have more of a role in the running game?
That remains to be seen, although Gruden strikes me as the kind of coach who looks at the parts he has available and then decides what the finished machine will look like, this is a good thing.
What is clear at this early stage is that, if Gruden needs Morris to be a high-carry back, Morris is ready and willing to shoulder that responsibility.
Follow Tom Garrett at @TheAxisOfEgo
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