Of Many Lessons, Alfred Morris Has Learned The Most About Physical Preparation
ASHBURN – For a player who rarely even stretched while in college, Alfred Morris has learned a thing or two about taking better care of his body during his first year in the NFL.
Morris, the Washington Redskins’ running back, barely concerned himself with the little things. There were no massages, nor did he spend time after practice in the hot or cold tubs. If he was sore, as all running backs always are, he’d simply will himself to keep going – a task that, he admitted, was difficult as the season wore on at Florida Atlantic.
This, however, is not college – something Morris recognized early in his rookie season. As the Redskins’ top running back nears 1,000 yards, a milestone he’s certain to reach Monday night against the New York Giants, he has learned that doing even the basics when it comes to taking care of his body is paying off.
“It’s just preventive maintenance,” Morris said. “Even the way I run now, I mean, I’m physical with how I run, but I’m not as physical as I was in college. You know, it’s a longer season, and you have to be smarter. You want to last the whole season.”
Morris has run for 982 yards and six touchdowns during his rookie season. He ranks fifth amongst all players in rushing yards, and his 4.7 yards per carry ranks sixth amongst running backs with at least 15 attempts a game.
He has maintained throughout the entire season that he has never paid attention to statistics; whether it was in high school or college, how many yards he gained or how many times he carried the ball was never important to him.
Yet, on the cusp of one of the NFL’s rushing milestones, Morris couldn’t help but think this week about where he stands in relation to his peers. He twice rushed for 1,000 yards while in college, which makes the occasion less special, but he finds fulfillment in his rise as a sixth-round draft pick.
“It is a feat in itself because of where I came from and just the odds – all the odds that were against me,” Morris said. “I can’t say that coming in, I thought I was going to rush for 1,000 yards.”
It didn’t take long for Morris to realize the dedication necessary of a player hoping to survive in the NFL as a running back. Not long after reporting for training camp, he began asking veteran teammates for advice on how they take care of their bodies, and fellow running back Tim Hightower instructed him.
A hot tub, he learned, can loosen muscles and other soft tissue and prepare him for exercise. Likewise, a cold tub can help take care of any bruising that may arise during the course of a practice or a game.
By working in massages and other treatment, and by altering his running style – say, taking an extra step to fake a defender, instead of running through him – Morris has been able to stay well prepared for the rigors of a much longer season.
“I mean, if you don’t take care of your body in the NFL, especially as a running back – you have no chance,” offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said. “It’s the most physical position, I think, on the planet. Guys hit hard, and if you’re not taking care of your body, it’s going to be tough to get ready for Sunday each week.”
Morris’ development as a complete running back was gradual. He worked his way into a starting role in the preseason when, taking the bulk of the carries with Roy Helu and Evan Royster out of the game, he kept churning out yards.
By the time the season began, Morris had worked his way into a featured role. The only two questions that existed were how he could handle picking up blitzes and a general role in pass protection, as well as his ability to run routes and catch passes out of the backfield.
The Redskins used him as a third-down back for the first time against Philadelphia on Nov. 18, though Royster assumed that role again against Dallas on Thanksgiving.
Morris ran for a season-high 120 yards against the Giants on Oct. 21, and a repeat of that performance would give him the team record for rushing yards by a rookie, surpassing the 1,063 yards gained by Reggie Brooks in 1993.
Presented with those facts Friday, Morris shook his head, then named off the Redskins’ remaining schedule – against Baltimore, at Cleveland, at Philadelphia and against Dallas.
There’s one goal he’s more focused on.
“It is a feat,” Morris said. “Don’t get me wrong – I don’t want to discredit it. But at the same time, that’s not what I’m looking for. Going into the playoffs and rushing for no yards will be more incredible than rushing for 2,000 yards and not making the playoffs.”