Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan insists he hasnt decided how hes going to handle the teams trio of running backs.Evan Royster hopes to make the decision for him.To win the starting job, though, the second-year Fairfax, Va., native must outperform Roy Helu Jr. and Tim Hightower in the coming weeks.Were all trying to do that, Royster said. So its going to be tough.Indeed, the battle figures to be intense.Helu has a better burst than the others and has stood out through three days of training camp. Hightower is the most experienced, as well as the best pass catcher and blocker, but hes still easing his way back into playing shape after a knee injury cut his 2011 season short.Roysters strengths? Well, singling out what he does well is as difficult as taking him down.Story of my life, he said with a smile. Ive been told my whole life that I wasnt fast enough. But I made it work to this point, so Im just going to keep doing what Ive done the past 15 years.Royster gained 328 yards on 56 attempts as a rookie and averaged a team-best 5.9 yards per carry. He started the final two games of the season, racking up 132 yards, against Minnesota, and 113 against Philadelphia.Asked what he likes about Royster, Shanahan didnt hesitate.You cant tackle him, the coach said. He makes people miss. He knows how to cut and and he knows when to cut.Royster said his familiarity with Shanahans offense has, at times, proven to be an advantage as he adapts to the pro game.I guess Im comfortable with the inside zone, he said. I ran a very similar offense with Coach Tom Verbanic at Westfield High in Chantilly and again at Penn State. Ive just been doing it so long, I feel comfortable.If theres one thing Royster wants to improve upon this season, he said, its his conditioning.The big thing for me at the end of last season was being in game shape, said the 24-year-old, who was used sparingly until mid-December, when he took over for an ailing Helu. I wasnt used to getting out there and taking all those reps, especially in the Philly game when I came out and I was cramping through my whole body. I wasnt prepared for what I needed to do.So thats my focus this year: doing what I need to do be ready for games, he added.And, of course, winning the starting job.
Over the last four seasons, the Redskins are 31-32-1.
Problem is, the team believes they're on the verge of something grander.
"We're in the middle of the pack," Bruce Allen told reporters Tuesday at the Senior Bowl. "It means you're close, it means you're close to being better."
"Yeah, we were two games out of a playoff," Allen added later while reviewing the 2018 campaign. "No matter how you want to look at the season, we were two games out of it, and the year before we were one game out of it, and the year before we were one game out of it."
Four years. One forgettable playoff appearance followed by three misses.
If Washington truly thinks that they're legitimately close to breaking through, then they will never break through.
Think back to this past weekend, where four elite groups battled it out for Super Bowl spots in two epic duels. Can you imagine this iteration of the Burgundy and Gold ever reaching that level of football?
Sure, if you ignored the many flaws, perhaps you felt the 6-3 'Skins who led the division back in November could do some measure of damage in the postseason. Allen, Jay Gruden and others in Ashburn point to that stretch whenever they can.
But even that group, when it was still mostly healthy, felt at least a level below top contenders. They came out totally flat in their home opener, suffered a pair of 24-point losses and gave up 500 yards to Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Bucs during those nine contests.
You know the rest — multiple quarterbacks went down as did a slew of other contributors, and the Redskins' hopes went with them.
"We didn't finish strong," Allen said. "I'm not going to use injuries as an excuse because we had some opportunities to win some games at the end of the year that we didn't."
He's right in not wanting to use the battered roster as an excuse. But even then, he brought up the "heartbreaking injuries" again later on and mentioned hopefully having a "healthy team for the 2019 season" when answering a question about bringing Gruden back as coach.
And therein lies the issue.
Even when everyone's on the field, there currently aren't enough difference-makers to elevate this bunch out of the "middle of the pack."
Plus, who cares about being one or two games out of a playoff spot?
That may signal something worth building upon in the much longer seasons of the NBA, NHL or MLB, but in the NFL, where you only play 16 times, one or two games represents a significant gap in quality.
Yes, there's something to the Redskins finding themselves on somewhat stable ground. That hasn't been the case for much of this century.
That said, Washington absolutely can't get comfortable with where it is and must avoid acting as if it's on the cusp of something special.
"If we can keep our team together," Allen said, "I think [the fans] saw a good football team."
As long as that's the thought process, the only thing Redskins fans will see are other franchises playing in January and February while theirs keeps coming up short.
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Tight end Vernon Davis has seen the Washington Redskins go through many ups and downs since becoming a part of the organization in 2016, but the 2018 season brought a new set of challenges.
Two injured quarterbacks headlined the Redskins' 7-9 season and fans were once again calling for team president Bruce Allen's job.
In a rare media availability during Tuesday's Senior Bowl practice, Allen noted how "close" he felt the Redskins were to reaching the postseason but his continued lack of transparency is something that does not sit well with Redskins fans.
Davis, speaking Wednesday on 106.7 The Fan's Sports Junkies, is standing by the team's president.
"I strongly believe, like I said before, we have the pieces to win games."
"Bruce and Dan [Snyder], those guys are constantly sitting in their office trying to find ways to win. It's not like they're not doing a great job with it. I believe in them. I believe that they're going to make the right decision to do the best they can do to help us win football games around here because that's what they're there for. Bruce is there to make sure that we're a championship team. Make sure that we're winning. Making sure that we have all the pieces when it comes to different positions on the football field. So, they're doing just that.
Allen has continued to praise the Redskins fans for their passion throughout the offseason. But if you know the Redskins, don't expect many changes to take place.
And if it's hard for you to hang on to the little insight Allen provides Redskins fans with in regards to the future of the organization, Davis urges fans to keep holding on.
"I wouldn't quite count him out. I just say have patience and continue to support the Washington Redskins."
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