Redskins eager for preseason opener against Titans
RICHMOND—When the Redskins selected two running backs in the later rounds of April’s draft, incumbent backup Evan Royster viewed the moves as a personal challenge.
“It was motivation,” the 25-year-old Fairfax native said after Tuesday's practice. “Obviously, they want to get better at this position. I don’t want them to go looking anywhere else for it. I want to be that person.”
One of the few areas where the competition for jobs figures to get intense over the coming weeks will be at running back. Alfred Morris, of course, is the unquestioned No. 1 after gaining 1,613 yards as a rookie. After that, though, it’s wide open with five players – Roy Helu Jr., Royster, Keiland Williams and rookies Chris Thompson and Jawan Jamison – battling for two, perhaps three, jobs.
Through the first two weeks of training camp, Helu appears to have gained an early lead for the No. 2 job. Royster, though, has performed solidly, as well, and seems to have strengthened his case.
“It’s been going good,” Royster said. “I think I’ve been playing well. Obviously, you remember the mistakes, so it’s also a grind. But I’m out here getting better.”
Last season, Royster served as Morris’ primary backup after Helu was lost for the season in Week 3 with a toe injury. Royster’s involvement in the offense declined around midseason, but he enjoyed a bigger role the final five games, averaging 18 snaps per contest, after he proved to the coaches he could be trusted in pass protection. Picking blitzes and protecting the quarterback is one of the focal points for all Redskins’ running backs this preseason.
“I started out last year still kind of hesitant in my pass protection and that’s why I started playing more at the end of the season as I started to get a little more comfortable,” he said. “Hopefully I can build on that.”
Royster also hopes his experience and high football IQ will give him the edge he needs.
“I have a mind for the game,” he said. “I’ve spent so much time in the classroom. I know the game well, and I love playing it.”
Coach Mike Shanahan has often said the two positions that are hardest to evaluate in practice are running back and safety. So that makes the four preseason contests especially important for a player in Royster’s situation.
“I’m very excited,” he said about Thursday’s exhibition opener in Tennessee. “Camp has been great. We’ve been in pads a lot down here, so we’ve had a lot of contact. But it’s going to be fun to hit somebody else.”