Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Redskin position review: Running backs

And we continue to slowly but surely make our way through the positions. Wrapped up the defense last week; below are the links to those posts…

Defensive line
Defensive backs

… and now running back seems like as good a place as any to start looking at the offense.

Let’s start with the obvious point that Clinton Portis has in all likelihood taken his last snap as a Redskin. Although he was one of my favorite players to watch during the Gibbs/Zorn era, he simply has little speed or power left to offer, and there seems little chance he could stay healthy through a full season. Fortunately this is one of the few positions where the Redskins actually have some young talent to feel good about.

Most of the attention focuses on Ryan Torain. Torain certainly is exciting, but he has a lot of room for improvement. He has, for now at least, poor vision and patience and frequently misses his hole or bounces plays outside way too quickly. The tackle-breaking ability is great – but frankly he runs himself into many those tackles in the first place. And while he shows great speed through the hole, he certainly doesn’t have breakaway speed, so he’s good at getting to the secondary but is then prone to being chased down from behind. He also struggled mightily in blitz recognition throughout the year, so improvement in pass protection should be a prerequisite for him becoming the lead running back. But there is certainly a lot of ability here, and hopefully with some coaching and experience he can develop into a back who would give me much more confidence.

But in my opinion Keiland Williams is the much more polished player at this point. He has better vision and takes advantage of what the blockers give him, and though he doesn’t create dramatic broken tackles like Torain he certainly runs hard. He is very comfortable as a receiver, at least running the standard running back pass routes. And most impressively, he improved dramatically in pass protection after a rough start. He clearly is coachable - the failures in blitz recognition diminished as the year went on, and he is not afraid to lower his shoulder and throw a solid block. That said, instead of going out and meeting the pass rusher he sometimes waited in the backfield for the guy to come to him, meaning even when he landed a good block the contact was too deep and so he still interfered with the quarterback stepping into his throw. So there is room for improvement, but I think the guy has already demonstrated he can be coached.

I would be quite comfortable going into next season with Torain and Keiland splitting carries, so I see no need at all to invest any significant resources into the running back position. And of course there’s already some potential depth on the roster. We know next to nothing about Andre Brown, but we did see James Davis get a little bit of playing time. He showed some intriguing speed to the corner, but after a brief audition vanished for the rest of the season, probably because he was so bad in pass protection. He seemed to recognize the blitzers well enough, but was regularly beaten anyway as he was incapable of throwing a solid block. If it’s a matter of technique maybe it can be improved through coaching, but if it is a hesitation to initiate contact then that is a weakness that many backs never overcome (no running backs actually enjoy blocking, with the obvious exception of Portis who we all know is batshit insane). That said, it would not be at all surprising if Shanahan brings in a couple more cheap free agents or low draft picks to compete for time. Because that’s what Shanahan does.

It is also time to find a new starting fullback. The devastating drive blocks are a thing of the past, except against smaller DBs. Speaking of which – and I emphasize again that watching on TV it is not possible for me to be entirely certain of assignments so I’m inferring here – he frequently seemed to ignore the lineman or linebacker who ended up making the play, instead skipping past him to pick on a hopelessly outmatched cornerback, allowing him to flatten some poor 190 pounder while the running back was getting buried 10 yards behind him. For the sake of saying something nice, I will point out that he cut down a bit on the outright whiffs that plagued him last year. But of course it’s also necessary to recognize that his once-productive hands are gone entirely. And of course, if he ever gets another short yardage carry it will be one too many. He has never had any ability at that – he has poor balance and if there is any trash around his feet (as there always is around the goal line) he is going to lose his footing a go down. Not everyone who is big is a good power runner; I’m afraid there’s more to it than that.

So with Sellers’ advanced age and declining skills it is time to move on. We don’t know yet if Darrel Young, a linebacker as recently as last winter, is a viable replacement but in his preseason action he didn’t look totally lost, so he at least deserves a look. But it wouldn’t surprise me if an outside candidate was brought in as well.


  1. You have valid points on all of the afore mentioned RB's. Except I do think that Portis is worth having around on the cheap. If for nothing except to stay in on passing downs. I think his ability to block is a good enough asset to keep him on the roster and mentor KW and RT. Unless we get some help on the O-Line(which I think we won't draft a lineman to start), I think he could be worth having.

  2. good point ninja, however although CP has said hed be open to taking a pay cut, i dont think he will take a dramatic enough one to be able to keep around as nothing more than a 3rd down rb.

  3. There is NO Market for CP! He'll be lucky to sign for 900k to 1.5. We can afford him. Who are we actually paying at the position anyway? Torrain and KW make squat. All we need is to trade Fat Albert and we'll have all the money in the world

  4. It's not just about pay for me, and keep in mind I am a pretty good Portis fan. He has little to contribute as a runner, and Keiland has shown he can be effective in the passing game as both a blocker and a receiver. Portis would just be taking snaps away from a younger man.

    And remember most of Albert's money got advanced last offseason, so trading him wouldn't really reduce payroll that dramatically.

  5. We'll see what happens in the draft and the CBA of course. We could be spending a bunch of money on a new QB. I still like Portis as a passing down back though.