Reporting David Elfin
A year ago, Alfred Morris was an unknown sixth-round draft choice from a nowhere school.
In nine days, Morris will open training camp not only as Washington’s No. 1 running back, but as the holder of the franchise record for rushing yards. The former Florida Atlantic star’s 1,613 yards in 2012 were the third-most ever by an NFL rookie, topped only by the totals of Hall of Famer Eric Dickerson and Heisman Trophy winner George Rogers.
So what does the 5-foot-9, 219-pound powerhouse do for an encore?
“I’m a running back,” Morris said. “We’ve always got bullseyes on our chests. I know defenses are going to focus more on me this year, but I love a challenge. I’ve always trying to find ways to better myself. I’ve been preparing all offseason for it. I’m ready for it. I know the offense. I got a year under my belt.”
As superb as Morris was last year with seven 100-yard games topped by a 200-yard effort in the Week 17 showdown with archrival Dallas for the NFC East title, the Redskins believe that he can better in his second season.
“A lot of guys when they have success, especially early, they lose perspective for what it’s all about,” coach Mike Shanahan said. “You don’t have to worry about that with Alfred. He does the little things the right way. He looks even better than he did a year ago. He’s a lot more comfortable in the system and his responsibilities.”
The only negative about Morris’ scintillating debut was how he fared when quarterback Robert Griffin III, the Offensive Rookie of the Year, was injured. When Griffin was on the field as a record-breaking pass/run threat, Morris averaged five yards a carry. However, when Griffin was sidelined for part of the Atlanta and Baltimore games and the entire Cleveland contest, Morris averaged just three yards a carry.
“People who say that just don’t … just read stats,” offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said, bristling. “Alfred’s a beast. About three guys all year tackled him on the first [hit]. That guy runs as hard as anyone I’ve ever seen. Most of his yards came on outside zone [runs], not the zone read [where Griffin is a threat to run]. Alfred is as good of a back as I’ve ever had. He’s the real deal.”
Shanahan’s father, Redskins coach Mike Shanahan, is famous for having produced a plethora of 1,000-yard runners. The elder Shanahan is also very high on Morris, his latest late-round discovery.
“Very few people can make people miss consistently, [but Alfred] can make the first person miss,” Mike Shanahan said. “He has the type of power and leg drive you like in a running back.”
Griffin also denied that he was the driving force in Morris’ unexpected rookie success.
“I wouldn’t say that,” said Griffin, who noted that the ever-hardworking Morris even runs hard during walk-through drills. “You don’t take anything away from Alfred’s talent. It doesn’t matter how big the hole is, there are still guys out there ready to hit him and he’s bouncing off them.”
As for Morris he said he knew he would make it in the NFL when he ran for 107 yards on 14 carries in the much-hyped preseason duel between No. 2 overall selection Griffin and No. 1 overall pick Andrew Luck of the Colts last summer. However, the 24-year-old Pensacola, Fla. native said that stats don’t mean much to him.
“I really don’t care about stats,” Morris said. “I care about winning. When Robert’s not in there, [defenses] can stack the box. What running back’s going to get a lot of yards when somebody’s stacking the box? It really became evident in the Falcons game when he got knocked out. But it came back to bite [the Browns]. Let ‘em stack the box. They’re going to get embarrassed because we’re going to throw it over the top.”
The fact that the low-key Morris is not an over the top type is something about which anyone who has met him can agree. But he and Griffin were the biggest factors in finally putting the Redskins back on top in the NFC East in 2012. Washington hasn’t won consecutive division titles since 1983-84. Will Griffin and Morris make it happen again in their second seasons? Don’t bet against them.
David Elfin began writing about sports when he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is Washington’s representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and the author of seven books, most recently, “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last three Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since March 2011. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidElfin