The Redskins running game improved when Roy Helu entered the lineup. Richard C. Lewis/Icon SMI
When training camp began, the Redskins' offense figured to rely on a strong running game led by Tim Hightower and Ryan Torain, as well as the zone-blocked stretch play. By season's end, injuries and ineffective play had sidelined the veterans, who were replaced by Roy Helu and Evan Royster (both rookies). And, the slow-developing hand-off stretch had been shelved in favor of a quick-hitting toss stretch that opposing defenses struggled to stop.
Despite upheaval along the offensive line, and being forced to feature two rookies, Washington was a solid running team last season. They ranked 10th in running success rate at Advanced NFL stats -- the running stat that correlates best with winning. They surged up the charts over the second half of the season when the coaching staff broke out that toss stretch and Helu entered the lineup.
The toss sweep was the key to Washington's improved offensive production in the latter part of the season because it was the first time in the Shanahan era the Skins had a play that forced opposing defenses to adjust.
Grades for the running backs:
Roy Helu: B -- A solid season for the rookie. He made some big plays and it was with him in the backfield that Washington established the stretch toss. He also was a threat as a pass-catcher. Some costly fumbles and a low success rate kept him from getting an A.
Evan Royster: A -- Royster began the season on the practice squad, and was promoted when Helu struggled with nagging injuries. On a per play basis, Royster was the team's best runner last year. His success rate and yards per carry were tops on the team.
Tim Hightower: Inc. -- Hightower got off to a so-so start, but got his knee wrecked and ended up missing the remainder of the season. His success rate was decent, but his yards per carry were low. The Skins hope he can return next season -- healthy and in top form.
Ryan Torain: F -- Torain led the team in rushing in 2010, but was simply awful last year. While I've liked Torain's physical style and burst, I think it unlikely that he'll be back next season.
Darrel Young: C+ -- Young took over the fullback spot from Mike Sellers and gave a solid performance. Young's blocking at the point of attack improved as the season went on, and Young has likely nailed down the fullback job for next season.
Mike Sellers: C -- Sellers was gracious in helping Young take over his job. He remained a valuable player to the Skins because of his special teams play and his ability to work at tight end at times. It was clear that Washington is transitioning away from Sellers, and I'd be surprised if he makes next year's team.
Running back is simply not an offseason priority for the Skins. Helu, Royster and Hightower have shown they can be effective runners. To get even better results from their ground attack, Washington needs to upgrade the offensive line and acquire a quality passer that defenses are forced to respect.