by Grant PaulsenBy Grant Paulsen

An already crowded Redskins backfield got deeper on Sunday, when Washington traded defensive lineman Vonnie Holliday and a conditional draft pick to the Arizona Cardinals for tailback Tim Hightower.

Hightower, a 25-year-old, fourth-year running back, is a local product. He grew up in Alexandria, Va. and attended college at the University of Richmond. He’s spent the past three seasons as a power-rusher in Arizona.

With expected starter Ryan Torain coming off a 742-yard inaugural season in Washington and two rookie running backs having just been drafted, the immediate reaction among fans was that Hightower was added at a position where the Redskins needed no help. But that’s not quite the case.

Hightower is known for being stellar in pass-protection, a skill rookie running backs don’t normally possess right away. In fact, Keiland Williams, Washington’s third-down back in 2010 who is spending most of his time at fullback so far in training camp, is the only credentialed pass-protecting block on Washington’s roster.

Only 13 NFL running backs stayed in the backfield to block more often than Hightower did last season (119 times). In addition to helping the Redskins pick up blitzes, Hightower also upgrades the team’s short-yardage and goal line personnel. His 23 touchdowns the past three years are tied for 10th-most in football.

But what does this mean for the running backs already on the Redskins’ roster?

I don’t think it changes anything. Ryan Torain will still be projected to be the team’s starter. He’s been in the system for a year and Mike Shanahan liked him enough to bring him from Denver. And that was before he averaged 4.5 yards per carry last season.

But with Torain’s checkered injury history to this point, the Redskins couldn’t have gone into the season with just him, a pair of unproven draft picks, and a guy who has been playing more full back than running back in camp. They needed to add a veteran who has had NFL success and they did that by trading for Hightower.

As for Helu and Royster, I think Helu will still end up being Torain’s primary change-of-pace compliment. He’s got a chance to serve as a key weapon in Washington’s offense, both as a ball-carrier and on passing downs out of the backfield.

Royster, a sixth-round pick, will have a chance to win a job on the Redskins’ 53-man roster. But even if he ends up on the Redskins’ practice squad, it’s not like he still wouldn’t be a good bet to see the field in 2011. Torain began last year with the Redskins’ practice group and Keiland Williams spent time off of the team’s 53-man roster as well.

Both of the rookies will get ample preseason chances to impress the coaching staff and Helu is still a safe bet to break camp in a role that will allow him to get touches in regular season games.

Trading for Hightower gives the Redskins some insurance. It also gives them a young, proven, quality tailback who can do a couple things the Redskins weren’t guaranteed to get out of they guys they have.

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