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Associated Press | File 2011
Washington's Roy Helu rushes against Seattle.
Thursday, August 1, 2013
One definition of “NFL” is “not for long.”
No player on the Washington Redskins embodies that meaning, for better or worse, more than Roy Helu Jr.
When he finished his rookie season 2011, the horizon looked bright for the running back out of Nebraska.
He had gained 640 yards on 151 carries (4.4 yards per rush) and caught 49 passes for 379 yards.
With his slashing, cutback style and excellent hands, Helu had “every-down” back written all over his future.
After the first regular-season game of 2012, he had “toe injury” written on his medical chart.
And instead of putting a 1,000-yard season on his resume, Helu gained two yards on two carries and caught seven passes for 45 yards.
Then, he went on injured reserve.
The Redskins didn’t need to wait for Helu to heal. By the end of the preseason, they discovered Alfred Morris, a sixth-round draft choice from Florida Atlantic, who gave them the inside power running game they wanted.
Helu, a fourth-round pick in 2011, is well now. And he’s in the Redskins’ preseason training camp trying not only to win a spot on the roster but show the coaching staff why he deserves playing time.
At the moment, he’s making a strong case for the job of third-down back in passing situations.
Morris, who gained 1,613 yards in 2012, a Redskins’ season record, is firmly in place as the starting running back.
If Helu is bothered by any of this, it doesn’t show.
“There was a benefit to sitting out, and that was gaining a new appreciation for playing,” Helu said. “And I saw what our coach wanted from us, and how much he’s trying to will us to do well.
“When you’re playing, you feel like your position coach is on you. But when you step away from it, you understand he’s trying to get us to play to the best of our ability.”
Helu’s ability is not in doubt. He’s a powerful runner with decent speed. He has a knack for making the right cut at the right time.
“I think we saw what Roy did in the Seattle game [in 2011] when we played out there,” Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said. “He made such a big play and was the difference in us winning when he hopped over a defender and went 40-something yards [28, actually, but hurdling the defender might have made it seem like 40] for a touchdown.
“He has that type of ability. He’s strong, fast, elusive and he’s healthy now so we get a chance to evaluate him. Hopefully, he’ll keep on improving like he did his rookie year.”
The word “healthy” is a misnomer in sports. Helu’s health never has been a problem. Players have a fair amount of control over their health.
Players have almost no control over being hurt. And Helu was hurt in 2012. Eventually, surgery was required to remove bone spurs on his toe.
Helu is running and cutting pain free, and it shows.
But now, he’s playing behind Morris, whose inside power and deceptive speed make him an excellent complement to the option passing game executed so effectively by quarterback Robert Griffin III.
“I matured while I was sitting out,” Helu said. “My wife [former Nebraska volleyball player Dani Mancuso] and I led a Bible study group. And if you’re teaching something, you really have to learn it. We both became more mature in our ‘walks’ [for the religious faith].
“And we were newlyweds. We got to know each other better. That’s what I mean by being more mature.”
The question now is how a more mature Helu becomes more productive on the field for the Redskins.
“What I can accomplish is … I guess, I don’t really know how to answer that,” Helu said. “Whatever I accomplish will be what I accomplish. I’m playing out of thanksgiving and appreciativeness. Anything past today is nothing I focus on.”
A wise focus would be to make sure the words “not for long” do not define his NFL career.
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