bills game was surreal for alfred morris

(photo by Brian Murphy)

Less than 24 hours after the preseason opener ended, the Washington Redskins sent out a press release stating that the Comcast SportsNet broadcast was the highest-rated program in the network’s history.

Sure, Robert Griffin III played just 14 snaps against the Buffalo Bills, but more local sports fans tuned in to see those limited reps than ever before.

As you all know by now, on their third and final drive RGIII and friends put together an eight-play, 80-yard drive that ended with receiver Pierre Garcon acrobatically flying into the endzone.

That was enough to make head coach Mike Shanahan happy and the starters were done for the evening with roughly six minutes remaining in the first quarter and the Redskins leading 7-3.

Of course, for as enjoyable as that drive was for football-starved fanatics, the rest of the night was painfully boring and, at times, difficult to watch.

Rex Grossman played like Rex Grossman. The three Buffalo quarterbacks (Ryan Fitzpatrick, Vince Young and Tyler Thigpen) combined to go just 14 of 34 for 119 yards with an interception. This contest was so forgettable that the “fans” in attendance started doing the wave during the second quarter of their first football game in seven months.

And yet, those of us in attendance had nothing better to do than to cross our fingers and hope that someone — anyone — would put together a worthwhile performance. Thankfully, a few youngsters rose to the challenge.

One was rookie cornerback Richard Crawford, who intercepted a Thigpen pass just before halftime. The other newbie to make a positive impact in his debut was running back Alfred Morris, who finished the game with 15 carries for 54 yards.

While he’s listed as the fourth running back on the team’s depth chart, Morris did his best to show the coaching staff and local fanbase he’s someone who can carry the load, if need be.

“You can see he’s got good running skills and he’s got that forward lean,” Shanahan said. “He’s got good instincts. It’s going to be fun to see him over the next few days, if he still plays at a hard level. I anticipate he will.”

Although Morris was just a sixth-round pick, he did finished his college career as Florida Atlantic’s all-time leading rusher with 3,529 yards on 705 attempts (4.425 avg.) and 31 total touchdowns. If he can continue to show he’s a capable performer at the NFL level, Morris can absolutely become the next Mike Shanahan coached running back to drive fantasy football fans crazy.

“We have got a number of guys that can play in the National Football League,” said Shanahan. “As each minute goes by, we get the chance to evaluate a lot of these guys more and more and he sure didn’t hurt himself.”

As Morris came off the field following Washington’s 7-6 victory, it was readily apparent the 23-year-old was ecstatic. As he headed up the tunnel to the locker room with his teammates, Morris was sporting an ear-to-ear smile having just completed his first NFL preseason game.

“It felt great. I got to go out there and have some fun,” he said. “After all the practices, this felt like a party out here.

“I think I did pretty good for my first game,” Morris continued. “I wasn’t nervous. I just went out there and had fun. I executed all of my assignments and wanted to come out here and not make any mental mistakes, and that’s exactly what I did.”

Considering it was his first time playing against professional opponents, no one would hold it against Morris if he had a few pregame jitters. Somewhat surprisingly, Morris said that wasn’t the case.

“I did the same thing I did before any other game during my time in college and high school,” he said. “I just get into my thoughts and mentally prepare for the game. When I went out there on that field, I didn’t have any butterflies or anything — which was surprising to me, honestly.”

At what point did you want to pinch yourself and say, “Holy shit, I’m actually living my dream?”

(Laughs.) “It was my first snap,” Morris said. “It wasn’t even on offense. It was on special teams and I’m like ‘Man, I’m in the NFL now!’ It was kind of surreal. Coming here, dressing in the uniform and all — being a fan of the Redskins growing up, it was all just so surreal. I just took it all in and really enjoyed it.”

The first time we chatted, you told me you’re someone who likes to initiate contact. You’re not afraid to go out and hit somebody before they hit you. Were you able to tag anyone out there in this game?

“Not like I wanted to,” he admitted. “Usually I like plowing them over and to keep going, but it was different here. Not only that, but I was so close to breaking a few runs … I just need to continue to get better. I need to do that every day because, if you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse. That’s my pursuit — to get better every day.”

There’s been a lot of talk about a three-headed monster of Tim Hightower, Roy Helu Jr. and Evan Royster. Do you think you can play well enough to throw your name into the mix as well?

“I definitely can,” he said. “I’m a hard worker and ultimately that’s my goal — to become the starter. I know it’s a process and I’m just taking baby steps, but every day I’m going to get better. Every day I’m going to learn the offense. Every day I’m going to become a better me … eventually my chance is going to come and I’m going to be ready.”

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