One-Year Wonder? Alfred Morris Says No Way
After a season in which he set the team record for rushing yards, the running back is still trying to get acclimated to the demands of his second training camp.
BY TAFT COGHILL JR.
RICHMOND – After a round of television interviews and autograph signings, Alfred Morris blitzed past reporters and into the weight room at the Bon Secours Washington Redskins training facility Tuesday.
Morris apologized for not granting more interview requests, but he’s still getting accustomed to the newfound attention.
Training camp is a much different scene for the second-year running back out of Florida Atlantic this year.
At this time last season, he was an unknown rookie sixth-round draft pick many thought would be in a fight to earn a spot on the Redskins’ 53-man roster.
He enters the upcoming season, however, after having amassed a franchise-record 1,613 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns. Both marks ranked second in the NFL.
So now the only question facing Morris is, “What will he do for an encore?”
“You can always top production,” Morris said early in training camp. “It comes down to willingness, and, I guess, how bad you want it in a sense. I always hold myself to a higher standard and I love a challenge.
“It’s going to be tough to do that, but it is definitely not impossible to do.”
Morris said he entered training camp in “tip-top” shape and he’s fine-tuned the few areas he didn’t excel in last season.
He wants to become more of a threat in the passing game after hauling in just seven receptions a year ago. He’s also worked to improve his pass-protection skills.
Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said Morris’ increased involvement in the passing game will give the team “another dimension.”
Backup quarterback Kirk Cousins said he’s noticed so far in training camp that Morris’ “hands have gotten a lot better.”
“There’s been a lot of backs in the past that have been in colleges that really don’t throw the football a lot,” Shanahan said. “They emphasize the running game, and Alfred was one of those type of guys. But he’s elevated his game, and he will be able to catch the ball and be a lot more instrumental in our passing game.”
It didn’t take long last season for Morris to earn the respect of his teammates. Right guard Chris Chester said two weeks into camp the team realized he was “special” because it always took more than one defender to bring him down.
Pro Bowl left tackle Trent Williams said even during noncontact drills teammates noticed the way Morris moved and “we could obviously see he had a ton of talent.”
Still, Morris surpassed their expectations. They watched him combine with quarterback Robert Griffin III to spearhead the NFL’s No. 1 ranked rushing attack.
Left guard Kory Lichtensteiger said he expects another strong season from Morris despite opposing defenses being more aware of him.
Lichtensteiger noted that teams should’ve been alerted by the way Morris performed at the start of 2012. But he was equally dominant at the end of the regular season, including a 200-yard, three-touchdown performance in a 28–18 win over Dallas that clinched the team’s first NFC East title since 1999.
“I don’t know what you do to prepare for somebody that can run you over,” Lichtensteiger said. “Work on your tackling?”
Morris has found areas to work on this season. Chester said in addition to his pass-catching improvements, he’s looking like more of a natural pass blocker in training camp.
Morris said he’s worked to diversify his game so that he doesn’t have to be replaced on third downs. He also said he’ll never believe he has the starting job locked up, especially after the team added running backs Chris Thompson and Jawan Jamison late in the draft, a similar spot to where he was selected.
Roy Helu and Evan Royster also return to the backfield, but Morris said his goal is “outwork everyone.”
And then his aim is to show the NFL that 2012 was no fluke.
“Last year I was a mystery, but this year everyone knows the type of back I am,” Morris said. “I know that it’s going to be tough, and I’ve dealt with that, whether it was in high school or college. I know this is a lot more talented level, but at the same time, it’s still the same I’m not worried at all.”