Eight. That’s the number of running backs the Redskins have started since the 2009 season. Needless to say the revolving door at the position hasn’t done Washington’s ground game any favors as injuries and a lack of production have resulted in the NFL’s 31st-ranked rushing attack.
But on Sunday, the Redskins got a glimpse of a bright future in the backfield -- and his name is Roy Helu.
All it will take is a few more games like Helu’s 108-yard performance on Sunday and Washington might have finally found some long-awaited stability in the backfield.
“You could see some elusiveness, some power. You saw some speed,” Mike Shanahan said. “That’s what you look for in a running back and you could see he played with a lot of confidence yesterday … He really took advantage of his opportunity.”
Monday’s news out of Redskins Park that Helu will be the team’s starter going forward is one of the few positive developments from an otherwise disappointing season. There isn’t a better back on the roster and it appears as if Helu has finally gained his coach’s approval.
Shanahan has blown through a swath of running backs since his arrival, but none of them have possessed the skills Helu does. The hope is the rookie can build on his impressive game against Seattle in which he displayed not only his rushing abilities, but also his pass-blocking prowess.
Of course Shanahan values a back who can play every down and usually rewards players for their focus and work ethic in practice. Helu admitted he’s come a long way in his development, working with running backs coach Bobby Turner to hone his all-around game.
And the preparation made a difference in getting the start against the Seahawks.
“[Coach Turner] did a great job with me,” Helu said. “In the beginning when I first came in, I didn’t really have anything going for me in pass protection and he just taught me about [it]. It’s just a whole lot of want-to.”
While Helu’s start on Sunday was a sign that he could be ready to assume the load as the feature back, his performance validated Shanahan’s decision. An ultra-athletic 28-yard touchdown run – in which Helu jumped clean over a Seattle defender – highlighted his effort and earned some high praise from his coach.
“Well, I think everybody saw that one pitch out to him that he jumped over a defender and broke a tackle – probably the difference in the game,” Shanahan said on Monday. “But you have to have those type of plays in the NFL to win. I was really impressed with Helu and how he handled himself throughout the game, not just on that play. But overall, running game [and] pass protection, I thought he had a very solid game.”
It remains to be seen if Helu can provide the longevity the Redskins sorely need at running back. It appeared Tim Hightower was the answer before he went down with an injury and now it’s Helu with an opportunity to claim the role for 2011 and beyond.
You just know Shanahan is praying the eighth time’s the charm.