Welcome to Bizzaro World. That is where we must be because instead of looking completely lost the WashingtonRedskins are having a phenomenal preseason.
Currently leading the NFL in offense, and defense, and more happily sitting atop the NFC East (so there you go Rex Grossman), the Redskins have players coming up huge so far on both sides of the ball. Happily, some of the fresh faces in Ashburn are really standing out and making an immediate impact.
Among these standouts, newly acquired running back Tim Hightower’s star has definitely shined the brightest. Putting up impressive numbers against tough defenses in Pittsburg and Indianapolis. I know it’s just preseason, but even the greatest of the Burgundy and Gold Chicken Littles have to agree, this guy has been impressive.
I have to admit before he came to DC, in the late July “blockbuster” I did not know a whole lot about the guy. I was actually a little shocked that we made the trade due to the fact that I had always viewed Hightower as more of a “Short Yardage” or “Power Back”. I thought the guy would be a back up that had little impact on this offense. I thought it was a junk trade to get rid of Vonnie Holliday who wasn’t going to make this team anyway.
I just want to take this moment to say that I, am an absolute idiot. Honestly,never considered him to be able to do it all, nor did I think he was capable of being an every down back. But honestly why would I think he could?
Hightower has never been given the chance to be “the guy” in his short NFL career, and has always been considered more of a 3rd down back. This is largely due to the fact that the guy has plus pass blocking skills and is able to grind out the tough yards. He has a nose for the first down marker as well as the end zone. Which made him an ideal 3rd down option.
He has consistently been the 2nd guy splitting carries in a very unimpressive Arizona backfield. On top of that in his career he has been labeled a liability to fumble the ball, and for a running back you are better off having a wooden leg, then to be labeled fumble prone.
That said it hasn’t been all bad for Hightower.
Like I said earlier, the guy knows how to get into the end zone. I mean he scored 13 TD’s in his rookie year (2008) including three in the postseason. He actually scored the winning TD in the 2008 NFC Championship game propelling the Cardinals to the Super Bowl.
In his first three seasons Hightower has not seen the end zone less than 5 times a year, and his average yards per carry has gone up every season. In 2008 he posted a meager 2.8, but in ’09 saw it jump to 4.2, and last year a very respectable 4.8 ypc.
It’s pretty obvious the Mike Shanahan sees something he likes in Hightower, who coming out of college did not even receive and invite to the NFL Combine.
Shanahan has a knack for finding unheralded running backs with skill sets he likes and turning them into stars. At Richmond, Hightower played in a similar Zone Blocking Scheme to Shanahan’s and excelled. In his senior year he rushed for a school record 1,924 yards and 20 TDs. He averaged 5.9 yards per carry and, get this, a stout 137.43 yards per game.
It is also pretty obvious that he is going to be given every opportunity to become an every down kind of back.
He was brought in to DC in order to compete with Ryan Torain, for playing time. But since Torain seems to be made of the same grade of porcelain that Malcolm Kelly is, that competition has not materialized. Torain has missed the first two games and will sit again tomorrow versus Baltimore, while Hightower has been an absolute show stopper.
Hightower shows excellent vision and has the ability to plant and cut that makes him a prototypical Mike Shanahan back. His 58 yard gashing of Indy’s first team offense on the second play of the game Friday night was an absolute thing of beauty. If he keeps playing at this level I don’t expect to see him give the starting role back up. Considering how well rookies Roy Helu Jr. and Evan Royster have looked, I wouldn’t even say Torain is a lock to make this team, let alone start.
Listen, I like Torain, but his injury issues in my opinion are more severe than the concern with Hightower putting the ball on the ground. Mike and Bruce have done an excellent job of creating a very deep, very competitive backfield this year. Unfortunately for guys like Torrain (and Malcolm Kelly) to even make this team players are going to have to do more than have potential. They are going to actually have to produce.
It’s kinda hard to produce when you can’t even get on the practice field. Isn’t that right Malcolm?
As long as he doesn’t come down with the rumored fumbleitis Hightower looks to be primed for a career year. He could very well end up being the motor that drives this offense, and take a ton of pressure of John Beck (or Rex Grossman because it is a competition right?) and put him in a position to not have to be amazing, and that in itself is worth its weight in gold.
For a local kid like Hightower, coming home can be an absolute dream. So far all signs are pointing to that being the case. Mike Shanahan is notorious for bringing in guys that he thinks fit his system at running back and seeing them excel. Lucky for Higtower, Shanahan sees something special about this kid. Lucky for Redskins Nation, Hightower is proving him right.