WASHINGTON (AP) The Washington Redskins cut Tim Hightower on Friday, the latest twist in coach Mike Shanahan's 2½-year search for a consistent starter at running back.
Hightower, who was returning from knee surgery, was one of 23 players trimmed from the roster as the Redskins head into the regular season opener against the New Orleans Saints on Sept. 9.
Included in the tally was safety Tanard Jackson, who was suspended indefinitely by the NFL for violating the league's substance abuse policy.
Hightower's departure leaves the Redskins with three recent draft picks - second-year players Evan Royster and Roy Helu Jr. and rookie Alfred Morris - competing for a starting job that's been in flux since Clinton Portis was injured during the 2010 season.
Ryan Torain and Keiland Williams have been among the hopefuls who have started games since then and are no longer with the team.
The Redskins acquired Hightower in a trade with the Arizona Cardinals last year. He won the starting job out of training camp but played in only five games before tearing the ACL in his left knee. He re-signed with Washington in May and played in only one preseason game, getting five carries for 28 yards.
Jackson's suspension complicates matters at safety. He joined Brandon Meriweather and Madieu Williams as new additions this year as the Redskins attempted to rebuild the position after parting ways with LaRon Landry and Oshiomogho Atogwe.
But Meriweather missed the last two preseason games after hurting his left knee against the Chicago Bears. His injury and Jackson's suspension no doubt played a part in Shanahan's decision to keep five safeties on the roster.
Jackson will be able to apply for reinstatement in exactly one year. He previously had two drugs-related suspensions during his five seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The 2007 fourth-round pick was banished for four games in 2009 and for 12 months starting in September 2010.
The Buccaneers terminated Jackson's contract in April after he failed a physical. He signed a one-year deal with the Redskins a few days later, reuniting him with former Tampa Bay head coach and new Washington defensive backs coach Raheem Morris.
Jackson spent the first part of training camp recovering from knee and shoulder injuries, but he started against the Indianapolis Colts in the third preseason game.
Among the bubble players making the cut was Brandon Banks, the high risk-high reward return man who can change games with his speed but is sometimes careless with the ball.
Shanahan said Banks needed to show improvement as a receiver to stay on the team, and Banks helped his cause with a 47-yard catch in Wednesday night's preseason finale against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The Redskins also cut quarterback Jonathan Crompton; receivers Anthony Armstrong and Terrence Austin; tight end Richard Quinn; offensive linemen Tom Compton, Grant Garner, Willie Smith and Erik Cook; defensive linemen Doug Worthington, Darrion Scott, Delvin Johnson and Marlon Favorite; linebackers Bryan Kehl, Markus White and Donnell Holt; and defensive backs Travon Bellamy, Brandyn Thompson and David Jones.
Fullback Dorson Boyce and running back Tristan Davis were waived-injured. Linebacker Brian McNally was waived with an injury settlement.
The Redskins also placed exempt defensive end Kentwan Balmer on the reserve-left squad list. Balmer left the team several weeks ago during training camp, having decided he no longer wanted to play football.
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ASHBURN, Va. (AP) Tim Hightower is set to play in his first game since reconstructive knee surgery, while two other running backs contending for the Washington Redskins starting job will sit out Saturday's preseason game against the Indianapolis Colts.
Coach Mike Shanahan said Thursday that, barring a setback, Hightower will get some plays against the Colts but not start.
Hightower tore his left ACL last season and has been gradually increasing his work load in practice. He said he's no longer hesitating or thinking about contact when he hits the hole.
"It's been a roller coaster," Hightower said. "You wake up each day, you don't know how you're going to feel. My mind is ready to practice and play and do everything, but you've just got to take it day-to-day. This morning I woke up and felt great, so that was definitely a good sign."
Hightower's return is timely because both Evan Royster and Roy Helu Jr. will miss the game with injuries. Helu woke up two days ago with a sore right knee and hasn't been able to practice. An MRI was negative.
"I guess they're just being cautious with it," Royster said. "I'd still like to play Saturday. It's nothing serious. I just woke up with a sore knee."
Helu, who has two sore Achilles, will miss his second straight game.
Shanahan said he's not concerned about having a trio of running backs not at 100 percent only two-plus weeks from the regular season opener. Next in line on the depth chart is sixth-round draft pick Alfred Morris, who started last week's game against the Chicago Bears and could get the nod again this week for the Redskins (No. 25 in the AP Pro32).
"I don't really worry about things I can't control," Shanahan said. "We're just going to get these guys back as quick as we can, get `em healed up. Nothing is a season-ending injury. It's one or two games, we hope."
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Online: http://bigstory.ap.org/NFL-Pro32 and http://twitter.com/AP-NFL
**Smoke on 1st down, to left (Moss) and 2nd completion (wobbly pass) - a strike with clean pocket to Moss, good job by Chester. **Near INT on seam route into double coverage to Davis, just over LB, locked in on first read. Next throw, 2nd/15 - gets batted down by Applewhite on wheel right. **Beck doesn't see (reads) two wide open leak out receivers underneath on 3rd/15 sack/FF by Brown. (MOST legit criticism of Kyle's system, is Beck's read is clearly downfield and has to go thru progressions first) **3rd/3 slant to Moss INC, offsetting penalties that takes away first down by offsides, by Locklear. **Good decision on PA boot right - to run and get something small, instead of making a mistake with nobody open for + 7 **3rd/2 Quick slant to Gaffney knocked down in open space. Tight read & coverage. Almost another INT. Had Armstrong wide open to right (Again, criticism of Kyle's scheme, but think this throw is more on Beck. 1st option tight window. Not the scheme, but the read)
**Great 3rd/7 throw to Anthony Armstrong on sideline + 15 yard penalty on CB.
**Miscommunication with Gaffney, as Beck throws back shoulder stop, and JG ran stop-curl inside.
**Great 3rd/9 hook up after moving slightly to his right to find lane, with Gaffney wide open in 4 WR set, JG was the Z for 18 yards, with a triple bunch spray to left. Niles Paul was wide open underneath, but nobody says anything when a big play is made. Again, WR's WIDE OPEN.
**Slightly underthrown, but has to be drop INC on back shoulder stop for what would have been about a 34 yard hookup to Gaffney.
**Stretch run right + 10, and + 6 off right edge zone with DY plow. + 6 for first down on next carry behind DY who crushed a LB in hole, physical and banging. ** + 17 behind Will Montgomery with nice lead block, on 1st down. **2nd + 17 run of 1st Qtr. off left cut - with Fred Davis as lead. **Picks up 1st down on 3rd/2 on cut left and fall ahead of marker.
**Gets blown up 3rd/3 toss sweep left with significant penetration allowed by Cook/Locklear. Redskins get first down because of penalty after play on LB to Niles Paul.
**Takes false start to derail first drive. on 3rd/15 - split back of Beck - leaks out wide open with Hightower over middle, but did not pick up pressure off right edge. **Good lead block on +17 by Hightower off left stretch.
**Good effort block from slot on smoke to Moss, first play of game. **Engaged in block, draws penalty for 15 yards by taking punch after 3rd down stop.
**Drop on tough re-adjustment comeback, but play you have to make, right before fumble. Cost Redskins about 34 yards of field position.
**Next play after drop, wide open completion and fumble upon contact at WSH-34 w/ :21 left. Sets up GA FG that Redskins could never recover from, after blowing chance to put WSH in field goal position on drop.
**Good run block sealing the edge on stretch right run. **Gets lit up by Applewhite for sack/FF on 3rd/15.
**Takes off on "rhyno" call by Beck WAY early after being set and plows over LB for lead block on TH 25 run. **Good lead edge block on Hightower first run for first down. **Along with Hightower, two great seal blocks on Beck completion and perfect throw to Moss.
**Run 10 straight times, includes a 3rd down INC slant on 3rd/3 that was wiped out because of penalty, on first field goal drive.
**Bad miscommunication on 2nd/3 Intentional grounding, as Locklear blocks inside down, leaving RDE untouched and free shot at Beck, who avoids sack but was still in pocket for grounding.
**4th/7 - Redskins fake an attempt to go for it -- but call time-out and 49-yard FG.
**Touchback thru end zone on opening KO. **31-yard FG inside left upright.
**49-yard FG by Gano, then touchback 8 yards deep.
**Fair catch on first punt @ 12. Looks like he called it early.
**Doesn't fair catch punt on back pedal that Captain Munnerlyn chews up. Probably should have called that one.
**Great tackle on KO return at 11. plus a penalty to Carolina.
**Good run stop on 1st play of game, and big run stop on 3rd down, first drive with Cam in the air - along with DHall.
**Blown off block by Gross on Shockey squib screen.
**Unblocked sack on Cam to blindside. (2nd completely unblocked sack of day for Redskins)
**Combines with Barry Cofield for nice run stop on inside zone read..
**Chases Cam Newton out-of-bounds for 3 yard sack and loss. Next play, beats his block and pushes inside the pocket to force INC.
**Backside help with London on first run stop.
**Slows up Cam Newton on QB draw inside 10, to save potential TD. **Blows up the right guard for half sack with LaRon, who was late in getting to Cam but hopped on.
**Unblocked sack of Newton at RT caved down inside, lined up wide because he saw no RB in backfield, knew it was a pass formation.
**Bites on read zone option to RB, Cam holds on and was in space but slipped and fell at 8. **Rushes through RT - Bell to draw PF face mask (declined) on Carriker/Landry sack.
**Great rip-off of block on inside run to stop for no gain.
**Very lucky to avoid personal foul late hit on shove out of bounds on Williams' wildcat sprint to the sidelines. **Split sack with Carriker on 1st down on safety blitz.
**Poor tackle on Cam, beaten in deep zone coverage on Smith 3rd/15, and was held (uncalled) on a FG block attempt.
**Jumps route on 3rd/13 for near INT/TD.
**Good zone coverage on Smith for first incompletion.
**Sucked in on 29-yard run on 2nd/3 after 7 yard gain on 1st/10/6. Wilson playing man trail of WR in motion, who then goes inside to block - and Wilson and Fletcher slow to react to handoff. Fletcher actually got blocked.
**Shoots inside and opens huge hole (Landry was lost in space) when blocked down on a big run from Stewart for 14 yards.
**2 big missed tackles on opening drive in space against Cam Newton.
**Blocked out big by LaFell on Steve Smith smoke route.
**3rd/9/21 -- Cam Newton scrambles away from Bowen, Kevin Barnes dives at his ankles in open space, Cofield over runs the pursuit, as does Orakpo, Landry gets crushed in backside chase, DeAngelo kind of slipped and missed tackle, London flies up from coverage to badly miss a tackle....finally angled out of bounds by Doughty. **Zone coverage wide open space to FB - Felton for nice gain of 17 yards. Orakpo/Wilson in area. **2nd/1 - Felton with big hole in middle, plows ahead as FB lead - but fumbles as forward progress was stopped. Shanahan was very upset that it could not be challenged. **Overload blitz off left edge, helps force 3rd/16 incompletion.
**Zero Blitz look on 3rd/13 completion to Smith on perfect sideline out pass and placement. Redskins dropped 4 out, Orakpo had pressure, but throw over Doughty and in front of D-Hall on turnaround cut coverage.
**3rd/6 left overload blitz at end of half with Kerrigan, Barnes and London all charging to Newton, as Cam goes other side for a short dump off. Good tackling in space by Redskins D (Orakpo)
ASHBURN, Va. (AP) From healthy, first-place surprise to battered and struggling, the Washington Redskins had their fortunes take another dive Monday when running back Tim Hightower was declared out for the season with a torn knee ligament and receiver Santana Moss underwent hand surgery that is expected to sideline him for 5-7 weeks.
That makes five starters lost to significant injuries over the last two weeks, coinciding with a two-game losing streak and a quarterback switch.
The Redskins (3-3), sitting so pretty after winning three of their first four, are on their heels. Little seems to be going right, and some of the misfortune is truly out of the norm. London Fletcher - who has never missed a game in his 14-year NFL career - has a hamstring injury that might finally get him off the field, and demoted quarterback Rex Grossman is in the hospital with pneumonia.
"We've got a lot of young players," coach Mike Shanahan said. "We're going to get a chance to see how much talent they do (have), and how quickly they can improve.
"And, hopefully, it's quick."
Hightower is the team's leading rusher. Moss is the top wideout. With the injury-induced shuffling along the offensive line, there are now only four offensive starters - tight end Fred Davis, receiver Jabar Gaffney, right guard Chris Chester and right tackle Jammal Brown - still manning their same positions from the beginning of the season.
"I felt like coming into the season we had a chance to be a good football team; I still feel like that," cornerback DeAngelo Hall said. "We're a little banged up, though, there's no doubt about that. ... (But) this is a different group. This isn't a group that's going to hang their heads and feel sorry for themselves. We're going to bounce back."
Hightower and Moss were hurt in Sunday's 33-20 loss to the Carolina Panthers. Hightower's left knee buckled when he tried to make a cut during a 4-yard carry in the third quarter, ending his season with 321 yards on 84 carries.
Ryan Torain and rookie fourth-round draft pick Roy Helu will try to take up the slack, although neither has Hightower's locker room leadership or ability to pick up a blitz. Torain had a 135-yard game in relief three weeks ago, but since then he has 12 carries for 17 yards. Helu's last 16 attempts have netted only 55 yards.
Hightower gave an emotional speech to his teammates after the game, encouraging them to soldier on.
"It's always tough to lose a player like that," Shanahan said, "who leads both on and off the football field."
Moss has 25 catches for 301 yards, second in receptions on the team behind tight end Davis. Moss broke his left hand in the first half against Carolina and had three pins inserted into the area around his index finger on Monday.
That leaves Gaffney, who has a team-high 361 yards, and either Anthony Armstrong or fifth-round rookie Niles Paul as the starting tandem for this week's game against the Buffalo Bills (4-2) at Toronto.
Fletcher, the heart and soul of the defense, left the Panthers loss early. His streak of 214 straight games might be in danger.
"I don't think it's that serious," Shanahan said. "But we'll find out more on Wednesday."
As if that weren't enough, Grossman spent Sunday's game in the locker room fighting pneumonia and a fever. Shanahan said Grossman would have come out to play if needed, but the coach also had receiver Terrence Austin taking snaps as an emergency quarterback during pregame warmups. Grossman is now being treated in a hospital for at least the next 48 hours.
Among those already on the sideline: Tight end Chris Cooley, left tackle Trent Williams and left guard Kory Lichtensteiger, all hurt in the previous week's loss to Philadelphia. Lichtensteiger is out for the season with torn knee ligaments, Cooley is sidelined indefinitely with a broken finger and is having his balky knee re-examined, and Williams is week-to-week with a sprained ankle.
The injury news overshadowed mixed results from John Beck, who completed 22 of 37 passes for 279 yards with one passing touchdown, one rushing touchdown, one interception and one lost fumble in his first start in four years.
Those numbers aren't bad, especially given the injuries, but Beck stood out in a different way Monday. It's been years since Redskins quarterbacks held regular day-after-game chats with reporters, but Beck made an appearance in the locker room and wrapped it up making a point to defend rookie receiver Leonard Hankerson. Hankerson, making his NFL debut, took a wrong turn on the first pass intended for him, leading to the only interception thrown by Beck.
"Hey, listen, the play with Hankerson, it's on me," Beck said. "I'm the guy that has got the ball in my hand, and I'm the guy that makes the decision where that ball goes, and we're very excited to have Hankerson be a part of this football team. He's going to be a great asset to this football team. Nothing goes on Hankerson. It all goes on me. You got that?"
Notes: Hall said he was "disappointed" that he wasn't the primary cover man on Steve Smith, who had 143 yards receiving. Shanahan said CB Josh Wilson got the bulk of the duty on Smith because Wilson had been playing well. ... S Kareem Moore, on the physically unable to perform list with a knee injury, will return to practice this week.
Joseph White can be reached at http://twitter.com/JGWhiteAP
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) John Beck showed the mobility to keep plays alive and get the Redskins into the end zone. He just couldn't help his team keep up with Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers in the second half.
Beck threw for 279 yards in his first start in four years in a 33-20 loss Sunday, including a TD run on a short keeper in the third quarter. But he couldn't lead the Redskins (3-3) to another touchdown until after the Panthers (2-5) had built a 17-point lead in the final period on the way to matching their win total for all of last year.
"It's hard to say, because winning is the only thing that matters," Beck said of his performance. "That's the only thing I wanted to do out there. I wasn't going out there trying to be too perfect; my ultimate goal was to walk away having won the game. This is obviously not the feeling we wanted to have."
Beck earned the starting job after Rex Grossman threw four interceptions in last week's ugly home loss to Philadelphia. It was his first start since December 2007 with the Miami Dolphins - he remains winless in all five career starts.
He had a late touchdown throw and interception after the Panthers had taken their big lead.
"I think John overall played very well the first time out," coach Mike Shanahan said. "He's always going to have some growing pains. That's the nature of the business when you just start playing, but I think you could see his athleticism, his quick release. It seems like he was poised in there throughout the game."
It didn't help that Beck lost top receiver Santana Moss and tailback Tim Hightower to injuries, either.
Moss broke a bone in his left hand in the first half and spent the rest of the half watching from the sideline with a bulky wrap on the hand. Hightower - who got the start and had run for 88 yards on 17 carries - hurt his left knee when it buckled on a carry in the third quarter. He was helped off the field and eventually carted to the locker room from the sideline. Shanahan said Moss will miss next week's game at Buffalo, while the severity of Hightower's injury is unclear.
For Carolina, Newton ran for a touchdown and threw for another in the second half, while Jonathan Stewart also ran for a third-quarter touchdown.
Newton threw for 256 yards and ran for 59 more. He ran for his seventh touchdown on a 16-yard keeper in the third quarter, tying a record for most TDs rushing by a rookie quarterback since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger.
In the fourth, he had an easy touchdown toss to Brandon LaFell to blow the game open.
The past month had followed a familiar pattern for Newton and the Panthers: trail late in close games only and repeatedly fall short. Probably the worst moment came here two weeks ago, when the Panthers gave up the go-ahead touchdown to Drew Brees and the Saints with 50 seconds left in a loss that left Newton growing more frustrated by the day.
But this time, Newton got the chance to keep the pressure on the Redskins instead of trying to pull off his own desperate comeback. The No. 1 overall draft pick responded to that challenge, coolly leading Carolina to three straight touchdown drives after entering the second half with a 9-6 lead.
He completed 18 of 23 passes in an efficient performance, with Steve Smith hauling in seven for 143 yards. More importantly, Newton didn't commit a turnover after throwing three interceptions in last week's loss at Atlanta.
It was clear how much Newton enjoyed finally getting his second win. When it was over, he ran to the front row of fans and gave high-fives on his way to the locker-room tunnel.
After Beck answered Newton's TD run with one of his own, Newton twice found Smith downfield on a 10-play, 80-yard drive that ended with Stewart's 2-yard touchdown that pushed the lead to 23-13.
Then, after the Panthers forced a three-and-out, Newton found Smith downfield again with a perfectly thrown deep ball that Smith hauled in at the 1 for a 36-yard gain. Three plays later, Newton connected with LaFell to make it 30-13 with 8:13 left.
Notes: Newton's keeper tied the record set by Vince Young with Tennessee in 2006. He celebrated by giving the ball to a kid in the front row of the stands. ... Redskins linebacker London Fletcher left in the second half with a hamstring injury. ... Panthers kicker Olindo Mare had four field goals, including a 45-yarder just before halftime for the 9-6 lead. ... Carolina's 30-13 lead in the fourth was its biggest in any game since the end of the 2009 season.
**Great throw on first play of the 2nd Half, off play action out of I, to Gaffney who runs diagonal post 32 yds right to left. **Beck PA boot on first down to wide open Fred Davis for big gain, on play-action boot. **Next play, same exact PA left boot and roll to Logan Paulsen for 24 yards. **3rd/Goal rip down and scramble for TD, staring into face of rusher who beat Jammal. The difference. **3rd straight series started with pass on 1st, INC to Armstrong -- open just off his hands. **Beck bootlegs to left, has to turn and makes bad decision as throw gets rejected in face of hardy. **Throws behind Terrence Austin for near INT on in-cut route from triple left slot, then forces AAA to out stretch OOB on should be completion. **Great throw (little high) on 3rd/10 to the CAR-10 to Niles Paul sideline-out strike, after two bad throws. ***Good escapability on 1st down dump to Helu to slip out of sack. Next play TD to Davis to make 30-20. **INT late on 'mis-communication' with Hankerson on go-route/back shoulder fade. **Beck picks up another couple of defensive off-sides with hard counts.
**Hard 7-yard run to on 1st Down. **Rips ACL on next carry, after 2nd consecutive big gain to TE on plant/cut.
**1st carry on 1st drive of 2nd half, + 2. **Gets blown up for -5 yards, after DY and Fred Davis get beat by same defender.
**Very nice job by Roy Helu and interior offensive line on big blitz up middle -- play was incomplete but because Beck threw behind Terrence Austin. *Catch short on 4th and 5 to end game.
**On 3rd/2, INC with CB perfect coverage on quick cross out of 3B bunch spray. **Tough catch over middle on first down, out of slot on in-cut.
**Good route after getting initial jam and release for 23 yard gain. **Brutal drop on 2nd/10 wide open @ 33, with Armstrong up ahead for lead block, and at least 30 yards running room. KILLER. Leads to 3rd/long and then punt & any momentum, in a 23-13 game. **Clean release sideline out for + 17, that's open all day. **Another clean release, sideline out for 14 yards - wide open. **Clean release again off the LOS - runs pivot route and nice catch low for TD, struts in a 30-20 game.
**Two big catches on TD drive as front/right TE - on play action, one boot - for 24 (boot) and 24 (PA drop)
**Great route thru zone from Z - for 32 yard gain to start 2nd half. **Wide open slant after Fred clears out, for 15 yards.
**1st NFL catch out of left high slot for + 14. **leaping catch for first down on 3rd/10 to sideline late. Nice footwork, cut and leap.
**Holding on Charles Johnson on INC @ 3:20, that Armstrong was very upset about a non DPI call on. **Gives up spin move sack to Charles Johnson @ 1:42 left,
**4th/2 sack of Beck thru A-gap, with Cook beat. Late shift at :03 left on play clock, Beck waving Armstrong from left to right to a triple bunch right.
**Return from 5 yards deep in end zone to 19. **Doesn't get next KO for touchback out of bounds
**KO touchback -9 yards deep in end zone. **Onsides KO with 5:03 left, a little too hard -- did not get true hop. Didn't like call by Shanny/Danny
**Nice cave-in lateral pursuit on 1st/20 to stop run.
**Gets held on 1st down at POA to draw penalty.
**Good run stop on 2nd/4 to force 3rd/1. **Felton runs over Rocky/London on 3rd/1 up gut from FB lead. **Knifed down on 3rd/4 QB keeper for first down.
**Good chase down on end-around from Smith. **DeAngelo Williams runs for + 8 up middle as London is blown up at POA to inside 5. **Stewart runs right at London for 2 yard TD, easy.
**Beat with cushion for 33-yard pass by Steve Smith in & out cut route. Josh flipped hips but too far off. **2nd/17 beaten by Smith in man coverage from X to right trail for 18 yards. Perfect throw and zip. ***2nd/17 Vertical go perfect throw and catch by Cam to Steve Smith for 36 yards to 1, Wilson back turned whole time. Played a lot of man in game.
**15-yard slant route catch by Smith with good cushion.
**Beaten way too easily on TD by LaFell on quick square out with way too much cushion. Cam was in shotgun. Gotta tighten up coverages in that look. Was playing inside technique.
**Forces fumble at goal line, and Redskins were in position to recover it with two guys and Carolina gets it back. **Hurts chest area on tackle of run that was negated by hold of Shockey.
**Newton to LaFell on first play after failed 4th down, Orakpo late switch and run over to LaFell -- who lets him go in a zone, BARNES dropped out over the top as a high safety and was late covering over in zone. 37 yard gain. **Next play, Newton on QB keeper option for touchdown, Reed Doughty flies up and is blown up and blocked. Landry and Orakpo late in making play. **Zone option read, Cam to left and then pitch for 7 yards. Orakpo crashes down and bites. **Defense draws a hold, and 3 run stops while burning two timeouts and 1:06 on clock in 10 point game.
ASHBURN, Va. (AP) Ryan Torain was headed for a touchdown, and no one was going to stop him. A couple of yards from the goal line, the Washington Redskins running back lowered his shoulder and punished St. Louis Rams safety Darian Stewart, bouncing off the defender like a pebble skipping on a pond before landing in the end zone.
Torain bounced up, flicked the ball away, puffed his chest and started celebrating his first touchdown of the season. Before the day was over, he would have 135 yards - with an astounding 96 of them coming after contact. His average was 7.1 per carry - 5.1 of them after the first hit by a defender.
Compare that Torain to the one who spends his weekdays at Redskins Park, the mild-mannered player who says little, who last year looked nervous with stage fright any time a group of reporters would surround his locker.
"He's that way every day. He's a humble guy. Quiet. Not very much to say. He says it on the field," said fullback Darrel Young, Torain's roommate on road trips. "Coach asks him something, he'll give you the answer that you want. Nothing more. So he's kind of straight to the point. Which is a good thing. He's never going to sugarcoat anything. He's a very understanding guy, a fair guy, team guy, but he is very soft-spoken."
The Redskins (3-1) have the luxury of a three-headed running back quandary. Tim Hightowerstarted the first four games, but Torain's monster performance in relief against the Rams makes him the favorite to become the new workhorse. In between there's rookie Roy Helu, who has been a sparkplug as a chance-of-pace back.
Coach Mike Shanahan isn't saying who will get the bulk of the work in Sunday's NFC East showdown against the Philadelphia Eagles, but he made it clear Torain's early-season exile is over.
"Any time a guy's averaging 7 yards a carry, you're sure going to give him an opportunity to show us what he can do," Shanahan said.
Torain had a coming-out season last year, starting eight games and rushing for 742 yards. But he's also been injury-prone throughout his young career, and he lost his chance to keep the starting job at the beginning of this season when he broke his hand in training camp.
He got back on the field when Hightower's left shoulder started acting up early against the Rams. With the bye week to recuperate, Hightower said his shoulder is now fine, but he was limited in Wednesday's practice. Still, he said he's playing Sunday and that it's important for him to hang on to the starting job.
"Yeah, it's important. That's my job. That's what I do. That's what I take pride in. I take pride in coming here every single day and playing to my potential and winning," Hightower said. "As far as whether it happens, that's out of my control."
That's positively expansive compared to anything Torain might say. Torain keeps his answers politically correct, and no interview with him would be complete without his favorite phrase, "working hard." He admits he was uncomfortable "a lot" last year when confronted with all the attention.
"Coming from a rookie year and not playing, coming to a big city like D.C., it was an experience," said Torain, who played two games for Shanahan's Denver Broncos in 2008 before sitting out 2009 with an injury. "I took a lot in. I learned a lot. I just kept working with it and enjoyed it and learned how to handle the (media) situations when I get put in them."
Young said Torain's attack mode on the field is just another example of how players change their mentality once they take the field. He did add, however, that Torain felt it was an "eye-opener" to be third-string for the first three weeks of the season.
Torain, naturally, had a more diplomatic take on his idle period.
"Stay positive. Always know there's going to be competition wherever you go," Torain said. "And just keep workinghard."
Hightower was projected to be a third-down back when the Redskins traded for him, and that's the role he could resume - assuming the shoulder is fine. He's a better blocker and pass-catcher, but he's averaging only 3.5 yards per carry. Plus, he got a lecture of Shanahan about keeping the shoulder injury a secret for three weeks after hurting it in the Week 1 win over the New York Giants.
"I don't think he shared with people that he was pretty hurt, even at the end of that Giants game," Shanahan said. "He played against Arizona and he was hurting a little bit more than he let on, and I could see it, but he never said anything. I talked to him on the side, I said, `You've got to be a little bit more honest with me. If you are hurting, I've got to know you're hurt.' He didn't want to admit it."
Meanwhile, the Redskins' running back of the future could very well be Helu, the fourth-round pick from Nebraska whose cutback style works well behind Shanahan's zone blocking scheme. Helu is averaging 5.3 yards with his half-dozen or so carries per game.
"That's a lot of good competition," Hightower said. "It's going to bring out the best in one of us, or all of us, and ultimately it's going to make our team better."
Notes: Young said he's full-go after missing two games with a hamstring injury. ... WR Anthony Armstrong (hamstring) and CB Phillip Buchanon were limited in practice. Buchanon's shoulder was expected to be an issue as he returned from a four-game suspension, but Shanahan said Buchanon's latest issue is a sore neck.
ASHBURN, Va. (AP) It's the little things that help turn an expected also-ran into a surprise first-place team. Take the story of Washington Redskins right guard Chris Chester - and how a subtle change in how he used his hand on a running play was seen as a milestone.
It seems when offensive line coach Chris Foerster was reviewing video from the 17-10 win over the St. Louis Rams before the bye, he noticed Chester used a hand instead of a forearm to shed the defensive lineman. The move allowed Chester to push the defender away and move onto the linebacker, creating a bigger opening for running back Tim Hightower.
"All year we had been talking about him doing it," Foerster said. "And he did it. ... It's a little tiny thing, but believe me, it's huge in my world."
There are a hundred reasons big and small why the Redskins (3-1) find themselves atop the NFC East, but the coaches love to point out the meticulous, bit-by-bit improvements from players all over the roster. While hand placement and footwork hardly make for glamorous conversation, the offensive line will quickly point out it helped produce 196 yards rushing and no sacks allowed against the Rams.
"It was something I'd been working on this whole time and had a little trouble practically applying," Chester said Monday when asked about the hand maneuver, which he had to master this season as part of his adjustment to the zone blocking scheme after signing with the Redskins as a free agent. "But last week I was able to do a better job with it, and we rushed for some 200 yards. Those details make a difference. It's especially apparent at this level. Everyone is so good. What it takes to get an edge is minute."
Chester cited gymnastics as an example, saying 9.997 might be a good score while "9.998 is like a gold medal."
The player next to him on the line, center Will Montgomery, went for the golf analogy.
"Each year I've been in the league you have to improve or you get bumped out of the league, whether it's your footwork, your balance, your hand placement," Montgomery said. "It's kind of like in golf. The biggest, strongest guys don't always win; it's all about the smooth technique of the swing. The same with the o-line - the smooth technique of your hands, your feet, your balance."
While the line had its best game against the Rams, no one is about to declare it the second coming of the legendary Hogs from the Redskins' Super Bowl teams. St. Louis is a struggling team, and stiffer tests are on the way. Next up are the Philadelphia Eagles (1-4), who were the consensus pick to win the division and whose early struggles are even more surprising than Washington's early success.
"By no stretch are we where we want to be," Chester said. "But at the same time we are making progress, and that's encouraging."
Chester is the only one of the five starters new to the team. Montgomery and the others marvel at how far they've come when they look at the film from last season.
"Everybody kind of gets it more," Montgomery said while seated at his locker.
As he was speaking, reserve lineman Erik Cook poked his head over Montgomery's shoulder, as if to playfully disrupt the proceedings.
Montgomery would have none of it. Without missing a beat or turning his head, he raised his left hand and gave Cook a hard, playful slap in the face.
"See that hand placement right there?" Montgomery said jokingly as Cook walked away. "I work on it every day."
NOTES: Coach Mike Shanahan offered a preview of how he plans to build up the Eagles, who are one of the league's biggest disappointments. "They're moving the heck out of the football," he said. "They've got some great weapons. They're scoring some points. All four of those games they've lost with turnovers." ... WR Anthony Armstrong was on the field Monday but remains limited with the hamstring injury that caused him to miss the game before the bye. "He practiced what he could ... I didn't ask him to push anything until Wednesday," Shanahan said. "But I feel like there's a good chance" that Armstrong will play against Philadelphia. ... Shanahan said Hightower, whose nagging shoulder injury gave Ryan Torain the opening for a big game against St. Louis, is still a little sore "but I don't think it'll keep him out." Shanahan wouldn't say which back will start against the Eagles. ... The coach said FB Darrel Young "looked pretty good" after missing two games with a hamstring injury. ... Shanahan said practice was "a little rough" as players returned after five days off. He ran them through some extra conditioning drills at the end. "I kind of wish we didn't have as much time off as we had," CB DeAngelo Hall said. "I think a lot of guys were a little bit rusty, a bit tired out there today. We'll work ourselves back." ... The Redskins placed rookie CB Brandyn Thompson on the practice squad. Thompson was released from the 53-man roster last week after CB Phillip Buchanon returned from a four-game suspension. CBNate Ness was cut from the practice squad.
**PA on first left out of off-set I with Cooley who cuts down backside defender so Rex can complete first down to Santana.
**Rex gets hit on a deep attempt incompletion, then under pressure from Trent on 3rd down incompletion. Ran a boot for 2 yards.
**2nd series -- first down, Rex throws off back foot with moderate pressure, terrible mechanics but should be completion to TH25 goes through hands.
**Great 3rd down clear vision, pocket strike to Gaffney on 3rd/8 for 20 . Same route right to left on the post cross that they love to run. Chester did good job pushing rusher out of way to clear lane.
**Touchdown to Moss out of 4 WR/RB set, with TH25 flanked wide left, Santana in left slot. They criss cross on the corner route and perfect throw, timing and footwork. Moss had right foot down, was dragging toes on left foot barely. Had blitzer leap in his face, and knock him down.
**Rex first throw, of 2nd Q, 1st down - knocked down on quick seam route to Davis. Tight INC but no seperation out of clustered bunch to left set.
**Rex with clean pocket (TH25/O-Line) and delivers strike to Moss on 3rd/6.
**One play after killing clock time off and taking first timeout with :40 left, because they did not want to take chance, Rex throws a near horrible pick right to the Rams safety, but again he can't catch it.
**Had the drop thru hands on 1st on 2nd series. 2 yard stretch left. Stretch run left, w/ pretty good blocks by Davis, Cooley, Trent for + 5. Then stretch Right blown up because JB got pushed back a bit into path of cutback, and play blew up.
**Great pass pro on Gaffney 3rd down comp + good lower the boom run on 1st + 6, off RT with great blocking by Fred/Cooley on right edge. JB & CC were looking for guys to seal block.
**Another big pass pro on 3rd/6 - hurling body at blitzer for completion to Moss.
*1st carry of year, lowers shoulder and bops safety in open field, with very good lead block and holes created by Trent, Cooley & Fred.
**Next play, Torain 20-yard TD run with great hole by Trent & Cooley - Kory Lichtensteiger also had key hook block to open hole moving lateral.
**Nice cut back run through middle, with Niles Paul a nice backside cut, gaping hole. Redskins had everyone blocked except # 32 saved a big TD.
**Helu + 5 up middle, hard agressive run + very good blitz pickup on 3rd down INC.
**Great footwork drag out of left slot on the TD rub route to corner route with Hightower.
**Big 3rd/6 out route completion, to right.
**Left flat reception for 4 yards. Lines up at FB, fakes PA left, angles right...Open but nobody picked up the blitz boot.
**Huge 3rd/8 catch + 20 on 2nd series on cross post sliding down. 2nd 3rd/7 catch on drive, from 'X" -- a little sitdown route in zone. Great blitz pickup by TH 25.
**Big time lunge on DE, misses block with head and body way too over extended, for 2 yard loss on TH 25.
**Bad false start wipes out 4th down conversion.
**Pretty good block on Hightower 7-yard run, with a good wall off.
**Redskins attempt 4th/4 at STL--39, Jammal Brown jumps on false start. Play blown dead pretty quickly, but Santana was wide open on a quick drop for a post route, inside of zone CB/S - could have been at least first down, maybe TD.
**Rex under good pressure up the middle, throws one away. Intentional grounding.
**Redskins squander opportunity and Rams do same as well, to call timeout after 9-yard run to force 3rd/1. At 1:29 left in half, Washington let :39 off clock and STL did not take time as well. Mike Shanahan says they didn't want to take a chance.
**2nd play, Orakpo gets knocked off on pull by backside tackle, Rocky gets pushed back and SJAX goes for 13 yards on ground.
**Haslett on 3rd/12 rushes 4, drops 7 in Cover-2 shell and Washington blows up short screen to SJAX. Good flow & hard tackle by Rocky, from across.
**Team sack on pretty big pressure by Orakpo that flushes Bradford OOB on last play of 1st quarter.
**TE of STL with a drop (Rams 5th) in 3-man zone, crunched around by OJ, LaRon & Hall. DHall banged up on play.
**3rd/1.5 - STL tries hurry-up run to SJAX and Redskins (Bowen) stuff it, along with Cofield. Then allows 4th/1 conversion on a boot roll to right (Pettis).
**Huge slot CB Blitz by Kevin Barnes, to put big heat on Bradford. Kerrigan got around Smith at RT and got a PF facemask called. Carriker batted pass down.
**Big stop on 3rd/1 hurry up run to SJAX
**Monster half-sack with Orakpo split to end first half.
**Good rip-off on run stop on first series, with Carriker shuttling down the line to assist. Great athleticism by DL to slide.
**Rush forces Bradford deep overthrow on 3rd/16.
**Knifes in on run stop of Steven Jackson on first play.
**Pass rush loops around Bradford but eventually pushes through and almost strips/sacks Bradford on nice completion, that beat Josh Wilson.
**1 play after drawing personal foul for facemask on good pass rush, Orakpo drives LT Saffold back, forces Bradford to spin while Kerrigan keeps motoring around and through RT/TE for sack/FF. Recovered by Barry Cofield.
**Had a nice pass knockdown on one throw by Bradford with good push.
**Huge pressure looping around right side of O-Line -- and big belt of Bradford to force INC on 3rd Down.
**Very good run diagnosis, fills hole, patient. Didn't miss tackle on SJAX, 1st down. 2 plays later, gets beat by Kendricks in off line and in zone under for 1st down on 3rd/5.
**Good open field in the middle tackle on SJAX.
**Great run stop racing in off the edge and from behind on 1st down after big completion at end of 1st.
**Assists Rob Jackson with good run stop on SJAX.
**Tight coverage on go route with Sims-Walker but perfect throw in - hands of Sims-Walker, could have been TD. He could not catch it.
**Beaten for 3rd time in zone coverage, this time Rams WR (Gibson) finally holds on.
**Good lunging catch on first punt, near sidelines. Advances a couple of yards, then OOB.
**Fumbles punt return, from mis judging flight of ball. Was lunging.
**Vicious, but clean pop on punt return to shoulder and skim over the shoulder pad with helmet down. (Pettis) along with Riley/Paul.
**Gang tackles, along with Riley and T. Austin the kickoff after Moss TD with minimal gain.
**Personal Foul on 'defenseless receiver" but no fair catch, led with front of helmet to shoulder pad. Head does buckle on impact, but not defenseless if he doesn't want to fair catch. Ball to WASH-45***
**Helmet to helmet hit on "defenseless" Pettis, who again did not call for fair catch. To me, he is not defenseless, it was perfectly timed, but clearly different then the Perry Riley hit.
**55-yard kick, downed without touching. Niles Paul and Byron Westbrook down on it. BW holds off Paul.
Good Morning, we are live from the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis where the (2-1) Washington Redskins visit the (0-3) St. Louis Rams today at 1 PM ET on the Washington Redskins Radio Network (ESPN 980 AM, 94.3 & 92.7 FM, www.espn980.com and SIRIUS XM Radio)
Here is a quick look at our (mostly) weekly feature "Notable, Quotable, Reasonable" for this last game before the bye.
** The Redskins are 23-11-1 all time against the Rams, but were hammered in a very poor effort during Week 3 in St. Louis last year, 30-16. A win today would be the first time the Redskins are (3-1) since Jim Zorn's first year.
** The Redskins are best in the NFL in committing penalties (10-75) while the Rams have been guilty of a bunch more, (25-262).
**Tim Hightower was almost benched on Monday Night Football according to Head Coach Mike Shanahan, who explained in his weekly appearance on ESPN 980 with John Thompson and Rick "Doc" Walker that if Hightower kept slipping (he did several times in the first half) or didn't produce on the Redskins only touchdown drive, Hightower would have been out and Ryan Torain would have made his 2011 debut. Hightower has reason for optimism today, as the Rams are allowing a league worst 175 yards per game on the ground, and Hightower has 418 career rushing yards in six games against St. Louis. That includes two 100-yard rushing games here in St. Louis, and has 4 touchdowns in those games.
**Last week, the Redskins squandered to some degree a great opportunity after LaRon Landry forced a fumble and the Redskins could only convert a 1st-and-Goal into a field goal. The Rams have five turnovers this season, four via fumble. Opponents have scored 3 TD & 1 FG off of the turnovers. The Redskins did cash in the Kevin Barnes Interception for a touchdown in Dallas.
**The first quarter will be huge for the Redskins today. The Rams have allowed 14 points to Philadelphia, 7 to the New York Giants, and 21 to the Baltimore Ravens in their first 3 games. For that matter, the Rams have been outscored 65-16 in first half combined. The Redskins need at least a 10 point lead at the half to feel good.
Mike Shanahan on if he focuses on key plays in games like the third-and-21 play against the Cowboys:
“If you don’t, that means you’re pretty blindsided. I could go back to the Houston game as I told you last year and I can go through five plays distinctly on offense, defense and special teams as well, at least a couple that really stood out and say ‘hey, each one of those are the difference in the game.’ … You have to have a game plan of all scenarios. You live and die from those calls from offense, defense and special teams. You always re-live it, especially when you don’t win. When you win a game like that, you don’t even look back. When you lose a game, you think about it every night. That’s the nature of this business. When you put so much time into it and you have a chance to win a football game and you don’t win it, you go back through a lot of those scenarios… That’s football – it’s going back and trying to learn from mistakes and hopefully not make them again, especially when it’s the difference between going to the playoffs and not going into the playoffs.”
Mike Shanahan on the red zone struggles against Dallas:
“We had the ball on the 19 and we had third-and-3. [Tim] Hightower caught a little option route, took it the 12-yard line. First run we had a plus-six. Second run we had a plus-five. We had first-and-goal from the one and we put it in the endzone… Your second one was third-and-5 from the 18 and you got a chance, so that’s that scenario. You can’t lose yardage on second-and-7 on the seven. It puts you in a bad spot — third-and-9. But you’re still working to convert those third downs. They had a good defense with the play we had called. We just couldn’t get in the end zone. And we had a shot on a third-and-5 and just missed it and the other one we got in the endzone. Third-and-3 from the 19, Hightower did a good job. We were able to have a couple of good runs there by Hightower. First and goal from the one, we elected to pass. So that worked out. But those are the things we keep on working on. First week we were 3-for-4. Second week we were 2-for-7. I’ll take that any time, being down there in the red zone seven times. That was not one of our better games moving the football against Dallas. You’ve got to get down there more. So hopefully we can rectify that with a little bit harder work and once we do get down there, put some more points on the scoreboard because 16 points is surely not enough to win.”
Mike Shanahan on Tim Hightower slipping in the game against the Cowboys:
“I’ve never seen Tim slip that many times in a game. He slipped three or four times in that game. Hopefully we get a little bit better footing. That’s what we do in pregame – get a feel for the field. I think every player has got about 20 pairs of shoes, so hopefully there shouldn’t be a problem. We should test everything out.”
Redskins Defensive Coordinator Jim Haslett on safety Oshiomogho Atogwe:
“Oshiomogho actually played his best game last week – a lot better because of the hamstring. He had an excellent game last week. He had seven tackles and he was all over the field. He did a nice job. He didn’t have a lot of opportunities to make big plays, but he was in position to do what he was supposed to do. I thought he played well.”
Jim Haslett on the 3rd-and-21 play call against Dallas:
“There were a lot of things that go into that. First of all, we ran it 10 times this year and we’ve had one touchdown, two interceptions, a fumble and we won nine of [the plays] and we lost one. It’s a great defense. It really is. We ran [that play] on 3rd-and-18 and we got the interception. It was one of those deals, talking to coaches in Dallas, that they had a comeback on and they avoided the comeback because of the blitz and he just started running for his life and kind of threw it up in the air. They made a play and we didn’t. Would you take it back? Of course you would. Coaches always second guess themselves, but it’s still a great defense.”
Redskins Offensive Coordinator Kyle Shanahan on if the offense got away from the run late in the game:
“I was happy with how the game went. In the third quarter, I think it was five runs and six passes and we were balanced then. In the fourth quarter, the problem was it’s going to get one-sided when you don’t have long drives. We had too many, I don’t know if it was three-and-outs, but it was about four-and out and then we’d pick up a first down. We had very quick drives. We’re happy with how we’ve run the ball this year. There are only six teams that have run the ball more than us, so I think we’ve been fairly balanced. It’s something that we believe in and, when the game dictates [it], it’s what we’ll do.”
**It's reasonable to think that the Redskins will run the ball much better today they they did against the Cowboys and Giants. If they don't, it could be disastrous. If Tim Hightower gets off to a slow start, you will see Ryan Torain make his season debut. He is ready and was prepared to go in and play last week in the third quarter, when Mike Shanahan was thinking about benching Hightower for the slips and lack of production. Torain ran over current Rams & former Eagles Safety Quinton Mikell for a early touchdown last year in Week 4 inside the 5-yard line.
**It's reasonable to think that the Redskins secondary will be challenged by Sam Bradford (former # 1 overall pick) but should be a lot better in game two as a complete unit. Josh Wilson was mostly fantastic on Monday Night, only allowing one legitimate completion. He had several pass break-ups, and was involved in the run defense. DeAngelo Hall was somewhat woeful last year in St. Louis, so he needs a big bounce back today - especially after popping off about the Haslett call. LaRon Landry should be able to add even more, after tiring a bit in 2nd half on Monday night. Landry was very good early, as you would expect, but missed a tackle on a big run by Felix Jones and also got beat rather easily by Jason Witten in coverage. Oshiomogho Atogwe returns to St. Louis - and continues to get better and healthier. He did have a critical holding penalty in the end zone, that negated a Rob Jackson blind side sack last week, but also contributed a huge pass break-up in the end zone. It was a play (because of the closing ground) that no Redskins Safety would have made since Sean Taylor.
**It's reasonable to think that the Redskins will continue to thrive on defense overall, as they are tied for first overall in the NFL on 3rd Down. Opponents have converted (7-32) attempts, which ties Washington with the New York Jets. The Redskins are 3rd in the NFC in scoring defense, (17.7 PPG allowed) and 5th in the NFL. The pass rush should be key again as the Rams have struggled in pass protection, despite having plenty of talent on the line - but Washington has generated 8 sacks on 98 passing attempts, which puts them 6th in the NFL, 4th in the NFC.
**It's reasonable to think that the Redskins special teams will get things figured out. Danny Smith is way too good, to have the mistakes continue. Graham Gano had a field goal blocked for a 2nd week-in-a-row, because Mike Sellers got blown over. It was mostly set up by a terrible hold by Sav Rocca. Gano has the two blocked field goals, and a Week 1 miss -- plus a kickoff that went out-of-bounds against Arizona. The good news, Punter Sav Rocca is # 1 in the NFL in punts downed inside the 20-yard line with 9.