I get a lot of questions about the Washington Redskins' running back situation -- who's the starter, how much of a role will Roy Helu have, could Evan Royster handle the load, etc. I know most of them are fantasy-related, but that's okay. I don't judge. I'm a fantasy sports junkie myself.
I've written here several times that the Redskins' plan, if Tim Hightower can recover from last year's knee injury in time, is for Hightower to be the starter and those other two guys to find their way into the lineup as situations dictate. But that's a big "if," as Hightower's knee injury was significant, and there's no way to know if he'll be ready for a starter's workload in 2012. Redskins coach Mike Shanahan discussed this after the first training-camp practice Thursday, and here's some of what he said.
"Hightower looked good. As I told Tim, I said, 'I don’t want to overdo it. I'll get you through some individual work, a few team plays, then I'll try to get you ready for the regular season after the first preseason game.' I thought Tim did an excellent job today."
On if one of the running backs has emerged as a starter:
"I've been asked this question a lot of different times. I really don't know how to answer it because you don't know until guys get in game situations with running backs. Sometimes you get a running back that can carry the load by himself. Most of the time you kind of have two or three guys, but we'll just have to wait and see as the preseason goes on who wins the playing time."
On if he expects Tim Hightower to start if healthy:
"Well Tim was starting out with the first team before he got hurt. Last year he was a first-teamer, but obviously Roy did a good job, Royster did a good job. We've got a lot of guys that I believe have the ability to play and play well, so we'll just let it play out."
So what does this tell us? Not a lot, really. They're keeping an eye on Hightower's health and haven't ruled out adding someone. Helu hasn't been the picture of health himself, so if Hightower were to progress slowly or have a setback, I wouldn't be surprised if they added a veteran back like a Cedric Benson, Ryan Grant or Joseph Addai. But that's back-burner stuff right now, as the guys they have actually are practicing and they have reason to be encouraged.
Could Hightower make it all the way back and assume the starter's role he had last season? Possible. They do think he's their most complete back, and they haven't liked what they've seen out of Helu as a pass-blocker. So this is their ideal scenario, though it's a long shot after a torn ACL.
Could Helu or Royster win the job just by playing well enough in the preseason? Sure. Helu looks like the most talented back on the roster, and the popular perception outside the organization is that it's a matter of time before he's the starter. But the coaches aren't convinced, and they'll need to see improvement in key areas in which Helu struggled last season, not to mention health.
Could Shanahan just shuffle backs in and out willy-nilly all year so no one ever really knows who's the "starter?" Did Col. Nathan R. Jessup order the code red? There is plenty on Shanahan's resume to indicate that this is, indeed, the most likely scenario.
Upshot is, the Redskins think they have depth and variety at running back, and aren't worried about designating someone a "starter." And if you happen to be asking for fantasy purposes, my advice continues to be not to count on any of them. Or if you end up with one of them, trade him after his first big game. This is an unsettled situation and is likely to remain so throughout the 2012 season.