The Redskins struck gold in the sixth round of the 2012 NFL Draft, selecting
Morris was the all-time leading rusher at FAU, but was so obscure that some draft experts had him listed as a blocking fullback thanks to his physical style.
After four quality preseason performances, Morris won the running back competition and started Week 1 in New Orleans. What followed, was the single greatest rushing performance in the franchise’s 80- year history. Morris finished the season with 335 carries for 1,613 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Morris told Health & Wellness Magazine after the season that there weren’t that many physical adjustments to life in the NFL. For him, it was the preparation process that needed an upgrade.
“Physically it wasn’t much of a transition for me, because I was actually more physical when I was in college,” he said. “Coming to the pros, you have to just be smarter. It’s a longer season, more wear-and-tear on your bodies so you have to know when to be physical and not to be physical.”
Not only was Morris entrusted with carrying the football more than 20 times per game, but he was also looked to as an outlet receiver in the flat and a blocker on passing downs.
Part of his durability can be attributed to adjusting his technique to stay as low as possible while running and blocking.
“I’ve never been an upright runner. Your body gets killed out there doing that,” he explained. “I’m always low, especially when I’m coming through holes, I’m trying to stay as low as I can.
“If I get out in the open field then I’m going to kind of raise up cause I’m trying to open up my stride. I can’t open my stride when I’m hunched over. You’ve got to know when to do it and when not to do it.”
Morris admits he never used the hot and cold tubs for recovery in college, thinking the cold tub was just unnecessary discomfort.
“I added to my knowledge of how to take care of my body,” he said. “They just helped me set up ways to do that like getting massages and start going to the chiropractor. It definitely helped me avoid that ‘rookie wall’ and just trying to soak up as much knowledge as I can.”
Another area where Morris discovered a need for improvement was in his flexibility.
Already strong enough to hit the hole and explode to the second level, Morris found that his breakaway speed was lacking at the NFL level.
“I don’t like stretching,” he admitted with a grin. “But stretching has definitely been beneficial, not only just to athletes but to everyone.
The more flexible you are, the faster you run. The more flexible you are, the better you feel. You don’t wake up aching. Just loosening your muscles up and just allowing them to rest. It’s always good.”
“One of the things I’m working on this offseason is becoming more flexible because it will unlock my heels and help me increase my speed,” he said. “I’m not as fast as I used to be because I have tight heels and it really affects me when it comes to running.”
One of the most impressive parts of Morris’s rookie campaign is that he piled up yards without being a homerun threat. Despite ranking second in the NFL in rushing yards, Morris had the shortest long run of the year, managing only a 39-yard burst in Week 4 in Tampa Bay.
“Speed. I mean I’ve got a burst and I have my acceleration, I just need that top gear back so I can get those big long runs,” he said. “I need to get those 60, 70-yard [runs].
“I can do it, I just need to get my top gear back. I’ve only got four gears right now, I need my fifth gear. I’m missing it.”
Like most football players, Morris must prepare his full body for contact on a week-by-week basis. Even though his legs are his money-maker, he knows he has to diversify his workouts in the gym.
“I love my lower body, but you try and balance it out,” he said. “You don’t want to overwork and be like some of those people who walk around the gym [and] their real big up top [but] not down below.
“Some people do upper and lower body workouts in the same day. I prefer doing lower one day, upper the second [day]. Kill my lower body one day and kill my upper body the next day. Get a day’s rest so you can do Pilates, yoga, [and] just a lot of stretching in between. I like that cycle, personally.”
Morris talked candidly about motivation in his workouts, saying he envisioned what other running backs around the league were doing to get an edge.
“I go in and I lay it all out,” he said. “A lot of times when I’m working out I’m thinking about other running backs, like ‘I’ve got to work harder than him. I’m going to do extra. I’m going to stay after and do extra sprints. I’m going to stay after and work on some stuff like strengthening my ankles.’
“Whatever it is, just doing that little extra, because I know other people are not doing that. I’m going to go the extra mile so I can be even better. I’m always outworking my opponent, even when he’s not in my presence. That way on game day, it’s cake.”
“You’ve got to give your muscles time to recover,” he explained. “A lot of people neglect the fact that recovery is a key component when it comes to strength gains and just feeling better about yourself.”
“You have to let your body rest, that’s why you have to get adequate sleep at night. That’s why you can’t just beat down muscles every single day.”
That’s not to say that getting proper sleep is easy. Between practice, workouts, treatment, and film study, Morris has to hold himself accountable to get the sleep he needs to succeed.
“I’m not much of a sleeper, but I do my best to get at least seven to seven-and-a half hours,” he said. “I’m not the type of person to sleep in eight, nine, 10 hours. You don’t want to oversleep; any more than that and I’m dragging around.
“You just have to find what works for you. Everyone [is] different. Some people need eight hours. Some people need six hours, so it all depends on the person.”
One of Morris’s other keys to success is diet, which he says might be the biggest change since coming into the league.
After confessing he has a bit of a sweet tooth, Morris said he has found the best diet is balanced, without binging on any particular type of food.
“My thing is everything in moderation. If you don’t overindulge in certain areas you will be fine,” he said. “You can eat sweets, but you have to find that balance in moderation. I don’t drink soda all the time or eat sweets all the time. I’d be fueling my body wrong. I’d be preparing myself to fail. My body won’t be able to run off of that type of stuff.”
Since coming to the Redskins, Morris has worked a daily breakfast into his routine, loading up on fiber-rich oatmeal and fruit. He also avoids fast food, which doesn’t fuel his body to workout.
“You just want to pick the right foods, depending on what you are doing and what you’re preparing for that day,” Morris said. “The coaches don’t force us to eat it. It’s going to affect your performance so I go in there and eat my breakfast.
“Everything in moderation and sometimes you’re going to have to change it depending on what season of your life you’re in. For me its football. When I’m in-season I’m eating a certain way, but when I’m out of season, I’m eating differently. Portion size is another thing. Nowadays our portion sizes are way too big. Portion size and moderation is key to any diet.”
Morris’s last key to success was finding physical activity that you enjoy and that makes sense for the individual. Football is fun for him, but that principle can be applied to any workout.
“Turn working out into a game or whatever it takes to make it fun definitely makes it easier,” he said. “Everybody likes competing. Find a workout buddy and you [guys] can compete against each other.
“Growing up, we never went in the house, we were always outside playing in some form of something whether it was football, basketball, or four-square. We always made exercising fun. That’s why I still enjoy it today.”
Looking ahead to next season, Morris expects to improve in all facets of his game, knowing that his work is cut out for him.
“I’m not getting complacent; complacency is death,” he said emphatically. “When you get to that point where you feel like you can’t get any better, that’s when your decline is going to start. I’m trying to become a better me. I’m trying to become Alfred 2.0, Alfred 3.0, Alfred 4.0. Every day I’m trying to become better in some way.
“I set the bar very high, I love a challenge. If you give me easy, I don’t want easy, I want hard, I don’t care. A sophomore slump? I don’t see it happening. I’m going to bust my butt this offseason. I’ve got to get better. I can’t be satisfied with a year when, as a lot of people say, you’re only as good as your last performance.
“I love what I do and I have fun doing it and I want to do it as long as possible and being complacent won’t help me. It’s time to set the bar even higher next year.”