Of Redskins, youth and running backs

ASHBURN, Va. -- Sunday's acquisition of Tim Hightower from the Arizona Cardinals might have made the Washington Redskins' backfield a little bit more crowded, but that's the way coach Mike Shanahan likes it.

"We feel like we can improve in every area," Shanahan said after the Redskins' morning practice here Monday. "We take a lot of pride in our running game. The first thing you have to do is get your football team together with the type of guys you believe can run it."

And what is it about Hightower that makes Shanahan believe he's such a guy?

Hightower"I like everything about him," Shanahan said. "He's a good blocker and an excellent runner. He's been very productive. Last year he averaged 4.8 yards a carry [ninth-best in the NFL among players with at least 100 carries]. He's a guy that I've watched and liked."

Hightower is also 25 years old, which means he fits the Redskins' 2011 game plan better than the 35-year-old Vonnie Holliday, who went to Arizona in the deal along with a conditional draft pick. Redskins fans may be having a hard time wrapping their heads around this since they haven't seen it done very often, but the rebuilding Redskins are going young and doing so quite intentionally.

"We did target some young guys who are natural leaders in free agency, and instead of getting an older guy we went with the younger guy for obvious reasons," Shanahan said.

Barry Cofield (27), Stephen Bowen (27), Chris Chester (29) and Josh Wilson (26) are the main players the Redskins have so far acquired in free agency. Right tackle Jammal Brown (30) was re-signed Sunday night and is a graybeard by comparison. Hightower is the same age as Ryan Torain, who got some run as the Redskins' starter last year, and older than draft-pick running backs Roy Helu and Evan Royster. It sounds as if Hightower and Torain will compete for a starter's role, at least at the outset, but Shanahan said the point was to bring in competition in the hopes that it would make everyone better.

"I think what Tim has done over the last three years speaks for itself," Shanahan said. "The same goes for Ryan. Ryan has some competition now, and he hasn't been able to stay healthy. We believe that we've got a back that can do it all. He can run. He can pass protect. We feel very good to have him here."