Jay Gruden thinks that Alfred Morris needs to catch some more passes.
Gruden isn’t talking about having the third-year running back step into the role they may have envisioned for Darren Sproles, the Saints running back who was rumored to be going to the Redskins before the Eagles traded for him. Sproles caught at least 70 passes each of the three years he was in New Orleans.
But he does want Morris to at least give the defense something to think about when he’s in there on a pass play.
“He wasn’t asked to catch a lot of balls last season or even in college,” Gruden said at the NFL owners meetings in Orlando. “It’s something that, obviously, you want to have him be an all-around back. His hands aren’t the most natural but it’s something you can work on.”
Morris had 11 receptions for 77 yards (7.0 avg.) in his rookie year and last year on a team that attempted 611 passes Morris caught 9 for 78 yards (8.8 avg.).
Morris not being much of a factor in the passing game is not something that just started when he came into the NFL, as Gruden noted. In four years at Florida Atlantic he caught 30 passes for 300 yards.
But, again, Gruden is not looking for Sproles-like big plays or big reception totals.
“You don’t have to run go-balls at halfback,” he said. “If you can just catch a standard check-down or screen pass, he could catch 20 to 25 balls a year and it just adds to his resume as being one of the top backs in the league. We’ll work on him quite a bit as far as catching the ball.”
Although I certainly think that Morris should improve his hands just as part of become a well-rounded NFL back, I don’t see him becoming a major part of the passing attack, or even more than a very minor one. Roy Helu does not have to worry about losing his third-down role to Morris (although Helu may look over his shoulder and see Chris Thompson or a draft pick catching up to him).
We're talking about an additional reception per game for Morris. That's not going to alter the offense much but any additional threat on the field at a given time helps.