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Should the Skins Be Worried About Hightower's Fumbling?

Washington Post Insider Mike Jones reported yesterday that Tim Hightower and Mike Shanahan aren't worried about Hightower's fumbling. 

His (Hightower's) five fumbles last season put him among the top five in that category among NFL backs.

Since taking the field in training camp for the Redskins last Thursday, Hightower has coughed up the ball in four of his five practices. Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said a couple of the fumbles are the result of Hightower and the quarterbacks having to get used to one another on handoffs. But others have come after Hightower crosses the line of scrimmage.

Still, the coach says he isn’t concerned.

“We’ll just keep on practicing it,” Shanahan said, “having people try to strip the ball. Hopefully that will eliminate that problem.”

Hightower believes the best thing for him is not to dwell on the fumbles.

“I focus on playing football and being a running back,” Hightower says. “A running back is about playing with instinct. You know what you’re doing, and from there it’s instinct and you play 110 miles per hour, and you just play football. That’s when you succeed.

“From a running back’s perspective, it’s easy to say, ‘OK, you’ve got to think about ball security.’ But as soon as you focus on that, your brain can’t focus on three things at one time. Your mind can’t focus on ball security, and run, and cut. It has to be a feel thing.”

The numbers Jones presents obscures the fumbling issue, however because the "total fumbles" stat doesn't reflect how many times a player touched the ball. For example, Cedric Benson fumbled 7 times last season -- twice more than Hightower. But, combining receptions and rushing attempts, Benson had 349 touches -- Hightower had just 174.

Among players with at least 100 rushing attempts and 10 receptions last season, Hightower had the 2nd highest fumble percentage, coughing up the ball about 2.9% of the time. Hightower fumbled roughly once every 35 touches -- approximately every other game, if he's the feature back.

Perhaps even more worrisome, three seasons into his career Hightower has not improved his ball control. In three seasons, Hightower has 12 fumbles on 557 touches -- 2.2%. That puts him in a statistical dead heat for the worst fumble percentage with Ahmad Bradshaw, Darren McFadden, and Ricky Williams. For his career, Hightower lays the ball down once every 46.4 touches. Compare with Adrian Peterson (oft criticized for his fumbling), who fumbles about once every 62 touches.

When Hightower hangs onto the ball, he's been reasonably productive. But if he can't improve in this area, the turnovers will hamstring the Redskins offense and put the defense in tough situations. If the Skins want to win, they need Hightower to hang onto the ball, or they need to find a running back who can.

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