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Redskins Back Tim Hightower Super So Far

BY ZAC BOYER | | @ZacBoyer

This story appeared on page B1 of Tuesday’s Free Lance-Star

ASHBURN–Tim Hightower isn’t trying to be a superhero, despite what the Green Lantern T-shirt he’s worn at practice and even during games may suggest.

Still, he’s been superhuman for the Washington Redskins’ offense since they acquired him from Arizona on Aug. 1.

What the Alexandria native and former University of Richmond standout has done during his first month with the team has been remarkable.

After three weeks with the Redskins, Hightower has rushed for 170 yards and two touchdowns–a mark that ranks third in the league to this point, four yards behind San Francisco rookie Kendall Hunter and three behind teammate Roy Helu, a fourth-round draftee from Nebraska.

“Shoot, Tim’s done a great job,” said receiver Anthony Armstrong. “He’s fit perfectly into the offense right now.”

The 6-foot, 222-pound Hightower was made expendable in Arizona, where the Cardinals wanted to see more out of Chris “Beanie” Wells and drafted Ryan Williams in the second round out of Virginia Tech.

His downhill-running, quick-shifting style was appreciated by Redskins coach Mike Shanahan, who worked out a deal for Hightower shortly after the five-month lockout ended.

All Hightower has done since is pile up yards, including a 58-yard run on the second play from scrimmage Aug. 19 at Indianapolis and a 37-yard touchdown run in the first quarter Thursday against Baltimore.

Hightower describes himself as “a kid at heart.” He’s used the mythology of the Green Lantern as a source of motivation this year, inspired during the offseason after watching the film and learning about the superhero’s story of how willpower can overcome fear.

Somewhat disrespected in Arizona, where he played his first three seasons, Hightower was motivated to make a difference for the Cardinals this year. He rushed a career-high 153 times last season for 736 yards, but his five touchdowns were down from his previous two seasons because of reduced goal-line work.

Then the trade happened, sending him to the Redskins and giving him a new outlook on his career.

Being close to home has rejuvenated him. But it’s also brought delight to the teammates who make each of his runs possible.

“Tim’s been huge for us right now,” quarterback John Beck said. “I think the entire team’s as excited as I am to have Tim a part of our football team because he’s running so well. We’re all definitely excited when we watch Tim’s highlights and we see that. It’s very exciting to have a player like that on our team.”

The success has also forced Shanahan to concede that Hightower is virtually a lock to be the top running back over incumbent Ryan Torain when the Redskins open the regular season Sept. 11 against the New York Giants.

“He’s done a good job,” Shanahan admitted Saturday. “I’m not going to say he’s our starter, but if you bet in Vegas, you’d probably bet in that direction.”

Hightower arrived with a reputation of being solid in pass protection and as a threat as a receiver out of the backfield, but also with a penchant for fumbling. He brought all three attributes to the Redskins, but after dropping the ball in practice fairly routinely during the first week, he’s had little trouble since and hasn’t yet done it during a preseason game.

Then again, he hasn’t had many carries, which makes the success all that more impressive. Hightower has had only 25 rushing attempts during the three preseason games and never played into the second half.

The success comes from his adjustment to the Redskins’ zone-blocking scheme. Rather than simply plowing forward, the offensive linemen will cut to the outside and allow Hightower to find a hole to power through.

It’s a scheme Hightower said he was only moderately familiar with during his time at Richmond, when the Spiders would run it occasionally. But it was never a staple with the Cardinals.

The hole on his long run against Indianapolis was so large he went untouched at the line of scrimmage, allowing him to break free before being caught by safety Antoine Bethea.

“It opens up so many lanes for me, because a lot of times, with running backs, you don’t really know how your line is going to move and you’ve got to wait,” Hightower said. “It allows me to hit my line full-speed. I almost felt like I had to speed up because that center and that guard, they got out there running so much that they got those linebackers running.”

Torain, who led the Redskins with 742 rushing yards last season, was slotted to be the starter until he broke his hand during practice on Aug. 3. He returned to practice for the first time Saturday, but at this point, Hightower has made his case to be the featured running back.

“If it gets better from here, I’m excited about the season,” Hightower said.