ASHBURN, Va. -- Alfred Morris looked strong a year ago, coming off a record-setting rookie season with the Washington Redskins. He was a little quicker, shiftier and understood defenses better. Morris always was a player who could set up defenders and read them. Now he could still do that -- and he was improved.
Then in his first game he fumbled. Then he lost a pitch. And, while Morris still had a good season, it wasn't the same as his rookie year. Nor was it the sort of season Washington needed. It clearly wasn't all on Morris: The passing game struggled, the team fell behind a lot and needed to throw more than desired.
That's a long-winded way of saying: If the Redskins are going to make noise this season, it will be because of Morris. And Morris did not take a step back as a runner in 2013 as much as the offense around him did.
Morris remains an excellent runner and the Redskins have kept the pieces in place to sustain whatever success he's already had. Redskins coach Jay Gruden has made it clear Morris will be the center of their attack. Gruden did not have a back such as Morris in Cincinnati -- nor does he now have a third-down back like Giovani Bernard. Therefore, Morris will have to handle the bulk of the run duties.
The Redskins' passing game is in transition. They have the pieces to be dangerous, but quarterback Robert Griffin III is still adjusting to life as a (mostly) pocket passer. It's hard to imagine they don't incorporate his legs some, but it won't be as much as in the past. Which means that the run game belongs mostly to Morris.
Morris, in a supposed off year, still averaged 4.6 yards per rush. He's still the Redskins' best offensive weapon -- or at least most consistent. His problem is the fumbles that stem from focus (dropping a pitch in the opener vs. Philadelphia last season and again in the second preseason game this month).
But Morris is still a good fit for this offense. He runs with power; Morris broke a tackle attempt vs. Cleveland when a linebacker tried to grab him up high from behind and gained 6 yards. That's routine for him. Morris is not one of the top three or four backs in the NFL, but he is a good one in a good run system. If teams are too concerned about the Redskins' weapons in the pass game, then Morris could face more seven-man boxes -- or even six -- and that's always good for a back. He understands how to press the hole and con defenders into overpursuing, leading to cutbacks and arm tackle attempts.
"For a while, we didn't have the pieces in place to run it [like this]," tight end Logan Paulsen said. "Now everything is here and we're established, and that's something we've taken a lot of pride in.
"As we get in the season the [passing game] will become a bigger part. We have outstanding playmakers. But it will be nice if this carries us forward."
The Redskins say they know their identity; it's the run game. That means Morris.