Twitter just about wore out my phone this past week, buzzing every time some free agent became a shiny new toy for a coordinator or coach. While this is all very exciting, it seems most people have (only very temporarily, I’m sure) placed our fallen leader, Robert Griffin III, on the backburner. It remains to be seen whether RGIII will return for the 2013 season opener, and while rehabilitation reports have been generally positive, no one really knows when he’s coming back. With this in mind I took a look at the potential of our other superstar rookie, Alfred Morris, should backup quarterback Kirk Cousins be under center.
Morris thrived this past season under the Shanahan’s offensive play calling. His natural ability, combined with the threat of RGIII’s athleticism and heavy use of the read option, allowed him to break franchise rushing records. The question now is whether Morris will still be able to excel without a dual threat under center. As far as I’m concerned he will continue to be a powerhouse in our offense.
In four years (with only seven touches in his freshman season) Morris rushed for a program record 3,529 yards at Florida-Atlantic. He recorded twenty-seven touchdowns as an Owl and rushed for over a thousand yards in his sophomore and senior seasons. Granted, the Sun Belt Conference isn’t exactly stacked, and the all time leading rush title he holds is for a very young program but he succeeded in a Howard Schnellenberger scheme that was predominantly Pro-Style with very little read-option and pistol formation play. Success in college doesn’t by any means translate to the NFL, but he performed admirably in Washington’s week 15 rout of Cleveland (in which RGIII was also absent), amassing 87 yards and two touchdowns. This was his performance after having a week to change his play to fit Kirk Cousins. Imagine what Kyle Shanahan and Morris can do with an entire off-season. The true sample size is small, but so far, the kid has excelled when called upon.
He is an absolute workhorse who rarely goes down after first contact, and has incredible lower body strength (reportedly squatting 645Lbs). His natural down field vision is incredible, and he has shown an uncanny ability to find or create a hole and punch through it. Even with the recent addition of the “Crown of the Helmet” rule fans needn’t worry. My take on film I’ve studied is that, while he is a very physical back, Morris often leads with the shoulder and shouldn’t have much issue adapting to the change.
Much of his success does come from the pistol formation, as it gives the running back a good look at defensive positioning, throws the defensive line off their timing and allows rushing to either the weak side or strong side of the line with ease and no cutback. Dual threats in the pistol can be very dangerous, but what people forget is that it isn’t strictly tailored to an athletic quarterback. The Pittsburgh Steelers used the pistol while Ben Roethlisberger’s ankle was injured and his mobility was severely limited. Cousins isn’t RGIII but he can run when he needs to, making the pistol entirely viable in the Redskins playbook.
The biggest area of needed growth in Morris’ play is his receiving ability. In 2012 he registered only 77 receiving yards the entire season. According to Pro Football Focus, this ranks him 53rd out of 59 running backs in receiving yards, being beaten even by a Washington teammate, third down back Evan Royster. Improvement in this area during the off-season will be vital as it will naturally lead to a bigger role in a Cousins driven offense.
At the end of the day, Morris’ future play isn’t high on my concern list. Redskins Nation has enough to worry about right now, without throwing one of our offenses’ highlights into the mix. Alfred Morris will be just fine, RGIII or no. I’d bet my ’91 Mazda on it.