SAN DIEGO -- Before the San Diego Chargers figure out a strategy to deal with the dynamic playmaking ability that Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III presents to a defense, they have to deal with one thing first.
Devise a scheme to control running back Alfred Morris.
For most NFL defenses, containing Morris has been easier said than done. A sixth-round draft selection for Washington last year out of lightly regarded Florida Atlantic, Morris surprised NFL observers by earning the starting running back job out of training camp.
At 5-foot-10 and 218 pounds, Morris ran a pedestrian 4.63-second 40-yard time at the NFL scouting combine in February 2012 and was considered an undrafted rookie free agent by most teams heading into the draft.
But San Diego coach Mike McCoy said speed can sometimes be overevaluated.
“For good football players, the film doesn’t lie,” McCoy said. “You see someone like Jerry Rice; I don’t think he was the fastest guy at the combine when he came out. Anquan Boldin is another guy if you look at the 40 time that he had at the combine, so you have to look at the success they had during their career -- what do they do with the pads on between the white lines, and how do they play on film.
“You look into those things [like speed] -- don’t get me wrong -- but you can play or you can’t play.”
Washington coach Mike Shanahan saw Morris as a perfect fit for his zone-running scheme, taking a late-round flyer on him. Morris follows in the footsteps of other unheralded running backs like Mike Anderson, Olandis Gary, Reuben Droughns and Tatum Bell -- all 1,000-yard rushers for the Broncos -- who had success in Shanahan’s precise running offense.
Morris finished second in the league in rushing with 1,613 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2012. He’s followed that up with another productive season this year, totaling 565 yards and four touchdowns through seven games. His average of 5.2 yards per carry leads all NFL running backs.
So what makes Morris such an effective runner?
“His ability to make plays after contact,” Griffin said. “He has quick feet. He always has his feet underneath him, and he makes great cuts up the field. So that’s what makes him a great running back. And our offensive line is one of the best zone-blocking offensive lines in the league.”
McCoy is familiar with Shanahan’s zone-blocking scheme; he went to training camp as an undrafted rookie free-agent quarterback out of Utah with the Broncos in 1995.
“Coach Shanahan’s had one of the best running games since I’ve known him in ’95 to now,” McCoy said. “He’s always been very efficient in what they do. Their scheme is very well-coached to the players, getting information to them on how to run it. I remember the good old install days, hammering it home to the backs that this is where the ball is supposed to go, and that’s the way they’ve always coached it throughout. And regardless of who’s been back there, they’ve always had success.”
While not easy, McCoy provided some simple keys to slowing down Morris and Washington’s zone-running scheme.
“You have to do a good job and be disciplined,” McCoy said. “You’ve got to be gap sound and do what you’re supposed to do. On certain run fits, wherever you’re supposed to be, you’ve got to be there. If you’re a support player coming down from the back end, you’ve got to fit the run scheme the right way.”