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After Record-Setting College Career, Alfred Morris Trying To Adapt To NFL

By ZAC BOYER | zboyer@freelancestar.com | @ZacBoyer

ASHBURN – A celebrated career at Florida Atlantic led Alfred Morris to the Washington Redskins, who chose him in the sixth round of the NFL Draft in April.

The running back left with school records in rushing yards, rushing touchdowns, carries and all-purpose yards, and he was the only running back in Howard Schnellenberger’s 27 years of coaching college football – which included a national championship at Miami in 1983 and a decorated stint at Louisville – to twice rush for more than 1,000 yards.

And though Morris expected the speed of the professional game to be faster than what he experienced in the Sun Belt, the weakest of the top-tier college football conferences, he was alarmed at how sluggish he felt when he reported for offseason workouts in May.

“At first, it was like everything moved so fast,” Morris said. “But now it’s starting to slow down, and the more I do it, the better I get at it.”

The 5-foot-10, 218-pound Morris is firmly entrenched as the No. 4 tailback on the Redskins’ training camp roster, caught in a logjam behind Tim Hightower , Roy Helu and Evan Royster. To make his presence known, especially amongst the defense, he’s made sure to lower his shoulder a time or two while finishing his runs.

“Yeah, I mean, it’s something I call ‘demanding my respect,’” Morris said. “I don’t really do it much in practice, but in game times, I’ll go out there and I’ll lower my shoulder on anybody. I don’t care if you’re D-lineman, linebacker, cornerback. I’m gonna lower my shoulder, and eventually you’re not gonna want to tackle me – or at least come as hard at me. It makes it easier to just run around. It will give you a step, and you know, you’re kind of just hesitant. It’s my style of running and it’s always just worked for me.”

Head coach Mike Shanahan praised Morris’ improvement as a receiver – an important attribute, given that checking down to the running backs is staple of the Redskins’ passing game. He also described Morris as “impressive,” for both his work ethic and his running style.

“I think everybody can see his natural instincts relative to his running ability out here in practice,” Shanahan said. “You can see he’s pretty impressive. But again, I mean, with running backs, you really don’t know until you put them in game situations, and I’m looking forward to seeing how he reacts.”

Morris is, too. He prides himself on his pass protection, and he said it’s unlikely for him to truly understand where he stands in that regard until the preseason begins. It will also be a chance for him to evaluate his route-running – something he rarely did in college.

Even after six days, he’s managed to keep it all in perspective.

“I kind of think about some of the guys I came up playing with or some of the guys that are still in college and stuff like that, and I’m on this level,” Morris said, referring to playing for the Redskins. “It shows that it takes more than talent. At the same time, everyone on this level is good and everyone on this level is fast, and you’ve just got to have that one special thing that kind of makes you stand out. [I’m] just doing whatever it takes to keep climbing the ladder. That’s pretty much the main thing that I learned.”

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