It took just two second quarter carries against the Rams Sunday for Washington Redskins reserve running back Ryan Torain to go from an afterthought in the team's running back rotation to its potential front runner.
On his first play of the season against the St. Louis Rams on Sunday, he took a Rex Grossman handoff and made a decisive cut to his left, bowling over a Rams defensive back for a seven-yard gain. On his next, he made a statement by running over another Rams defender on his way to a violent 20-yard scoring jaunt that put the Redskins up 14-0.
It was a strong start to a performance that could catapult Torain back into the mix in the backfield after being a non-participant during the season's first three weeks. Torain finished the contest with 135 yards on 19 carries, running at 7.1 yards per clip. Needless to say, it was the most impressive effort turned in by a Washington back so far this season.
So, the question must be asked. Going into the Week 6 matchup against the Philadelphia Eagles after the bye week, is it fair to say Torain will get most of the carries, if not be the starting running back?
"Oh, this will be fun," Mike Shanahan told reporters after the game, referring to the state of his running game. "I'll be playing this game with [the media] all week."
Shanahan should be pleased, as he and the Redskins have a good problem. They have three running backs in Torain, Tim Hightower and Roy Helu. Each have distinct running styles and each can come in and get the job done. The key Sunday for Shanahan was discerning which back to go with and at which times to do so.
Hightower wasn't as effective as he was during preseason and during the season's first two games, and Helu may not be ready for extensive duty just yet. Enter Torain, who took his opportunity and literally ran with it to finish the game with the most carries of the three Redskins tailbacks. That may have upset those who have Hightower or Helu on their fantasy team, but Shanahan's job is to give real-life defenses something different to prepare for each week.
Torain's re-emergence shouldn't be seen as an indictment of the abilities of the rotation's other two backs. If anything, it should promote something Shanahan has preached since day one: competition.
When he finally got his opportunity Sunday, it came weeks after he had been relegated to playing third fiddle to Hightower and Helu. So when it was time for him to show what he could do, he was plenty motivated to show the coaching staff and his teammates that sitting on the bench was not where he belonged. Sunday's performance may not have made Torain the future starter at tailback, but it could ignite a friendly three-way battle to see who deserves the most carries each week, something Shanahan loves.
Depth is not something that's prevalent everywhere on Washington's roster, but moving forward, running back is an area where they pack a potential one-two-three punch with the stable of backs Shanahan has collected the last two seasons.
Sunday showed that the Redskins running game could be more about riding the hot hand rather than simply playing the guy at the top of the depth chart. The term "starter" could wind up being a bit of a misnomer. It may not matter who starts a game, but who's able to be effective once they get their opportunities during one.
But none of that would be possible without Torain putting his name back in the hat Sunday afternoon, and most importantly, Shanahan allowing him to do so. That's the real story that should come out of Sunday's game. Focusing on which of the three should start misses the point.