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Helu, Royster Fortify Redskins' Run Game

Posted Jan 19, 2012

Roy Helu and Evan Royster both compared their rookie seasons to a "rollercoaster." They survived the ride, and thrived. And they have a chance to solidify the Redskins' ground game for years to come.

You’d think running backs Roy Helu and Evan Royster, based on their comments one day after last season, had spent the last six months at an amusement park.

Asked to sum up his rookie season, Helu replied: “It has been a rollercoaster, with fun turns, scary turns.”

What about Royster?

“It has been a rollercoaster – ups and downs,” he said.

Well, Helu and Royster survived the ride – and thrived.

Due to a season-ending injury to Tim Hightower and ineffectiveness by Ryan Torain, Helu emerged as a midseason starter for the Redskins.

He rushed for 100 yards in three consecutive games – setting a Redskins rookie mark – and finished with a team-best 640 yards and two touchdowns on 151 carries. He also caught 49 passes for 379 yards and one score.

Royster stepped into the starting lineup the last two weeks when Helu was slowed by knee and toe injuries. He rushed for 100 yards in both games, finished with 328 yards for the season, and averaged 5.9 yards per carry.

Redskins coaches head into the offseason feeling upbeat about the team’s running backs.

“You can see we have some depth,” head coach Mike Shanahan said. “I think Roy has done a fantastic job as well as Royster coming in and taking advantage of an opportunity. I though Tim did a great job before he got hurt. So we have some depth at that position.”

Added offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan: “You feel like you have two guys who can help you in the future.”

Helu joined the Redskins as a fourth-round draft pick out of Nebraska. He saw playing time early as coaches eased him into the lineup.

Helu first opened eyes in preseason in Indianapolis when he impressively cut back along the sideline on a 51-yard gain.

In a Week 2 win over Arizona, he flashed again, rushing for 74 yards on 10 carries. In Week 9 vs. San Francisco, he made his first NFL start and set a franchise mark by catching 14 passes.

Helu emerged as the every-down starter a few weeks later and showed an ability to cut back effectively in the Redskins’ zone blocking scheme. He responded by rushing for 108, 100 and 126 yards in the next three games.

“He got tougher throughout the [season],” Kyle Shanahan said. “He’s not a tough guy, but he handled the pounding in the NFL. The biggest key with NFL backs, which you can see with Roy, is when you get hit for nothing or one yard, do you follow forward for three yards or do you fall back for zero yards?

“He really finished runs well. He was able to turn those 1-yard runs into 3-yard runs. He was able to do it throughout the game and not get worn down by it.”

Helu saw limited action in the Redskins’ season finale against Philadelphia, gutting out his knee and toe injuries. He scored the Redskins’ only touchdown of the game, grabbing a short pass from Rex Grossman and racing 47 yards for the score. He limped noticeably the last 20 yards en route to the end zone.

Helu was determined to play in the Redskins’ finale.

“Looking at myself in the mirror, I don’t know if I could have missed the last game,” he said thoughtfully. “Whether that’s a prideful statement or not, I’m not sure. I know I had to give it a chance.

“I had to go into the offseason knowing I threw my heart into it. If I came up empty, then I would be at peace with it. I was fortunate with a lot of great blocks on that [touchdown vs. Philadelphia].”

Royster joined the Redskins as a sixth-rounder out of Penn State.  After preseason, he ended up on the team’s practice squad.

That was a disappointment, but he refused to let it deter him from working hard. Several teammates praised his work ethic during the season.

He knew what he was capable of on the football field all along.

“I might not be the fastest guy, but I can break tackles and make it hard on a defense,” he said.

Royster was promoted from the practice squad in Week 12. Like Helu, he eased into playing time.

He made his first NFL start in Week 16 against Minnesota and rushed 132 yards on 19 carries. The following week at Philadelphia, he added 113 yards on 20 carries.

“I never expected to start this year,” Royster said. “I was prepared to, though, and I got myself ready every week.”

Kyle Shanahan was impressed with Royster’s running style.

Said Kyle Shanahan: “He just has a knack for finding the right hole. He’s a very natural running back, he does it with ease. He doesn’t have to press the situation. He just really slow plays it and gets to the gap. He goes one gap at a time and it doesn’t look real flashy. Usually when you’re like that, you’re going to be a good yards-per-carry guy.”