ASHBURN, Va. (CBSDC) — A month ago, Alfred Morris was trying to solidify a spot on the Redskins’ 53-man roster.
Today, the sixth-round pick is entrenched as the starting tailback, having rushed 44 times for 185 yards and two touchdowns in the team’s first two games.
But while the industry seems to be surprised by Morris’ immediate impact, his coaches haven’t been.
“We saw it pretty early in training camp,” offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said. “You could see his natural running skills at practice and we just wanted to see if it carried over to the games, and from the first preseason game on it has.”
Morris has rushed for 96 and 89 yards in his first two NFL starts. His 44 attempts are the fourth highest total in the league through two games, with only Arian Foster (54), Marshawn Lynch (47) and LeSean McCoy (45) having carried the football more times than the 23-year-old.
The knock on Morris coming out of Florida-Atlantic — and one that he likely won’t shake for some time — is that he lacks the type of game-breaking speed NFL tailbacks need to rip off long runs and make big plays. However, Shanahan doesn’t think that Morris’ below average 40-time will negatively impact the type of success he’s able to have as a primary rusher.
“A lot of those combine fast guys, you don’t see as many long runs,” he said. “I think game-speed is about carrying your pads, pressing blocks, putting your foot violently in the ground and how much you can accelerate out of a cut. I think Alf’s a guy who, when he puts his foot down, he actually gains momentum from that. He can put his foot in the ground and explode out of it and actually be faster coming out of a cut than he was going into it.”
Morris has displayed an ability to cut explosively enough to force defenders into situations where they over run holes. His shiftiness and patience, coupled with the body-lean he runs with that allows him to take on contact has all added up to him proving to be a valuable commodity on Washington’s offense so far.
Not being a speedster is yet to catch up to him.
“[With] a lot of those fast guys, it’s like they’re playing on ice sometimes,” Shanahan said. “It takes them a while to stop and then they have to re-situate their hips and they get going again. Alf’s very similar to Terrell Davis in that way. Terrell wasn’t a fast guy but he hit that hole and if there was a lane he found that crease and he was gone.”
If Morris rushes for 85 or more yards on Sunday, he’ll become the third running back in Redskins history to open a season with three straight games with at least 85 yards gained on the ground.
If the first-year tailback has a career anywhere near that of Larry Brown (who accomplished the feat in 1972) and Stephen Davis (1999), the Redskins will end up feeling pretty good about their late-round find.