BALTIMORE, Md. - When Thursday night’s preseason exhibition between the Redskins and Ravens concluded, there were plenty of positives and negatives to take in. The latest preseason chapter saw the quarterback competitions’ biggest audition to date and the defensive starters showing just how improved they expect to be in 2011. The game also saw Jarvis Jenkins – a second round draft pick – suffering what could be a season threatening knee injury.
But one of the brightest stars in the game - and the entire preseason for the Redskins for that matter - has been running back Tim Hightower. In just three weeks, the fourth year back out of Richmond has gone from being a potential third down option at running back to being considered a lock to be the starter come opening day. How did that happen?
His former team, the Arizona Cardinals, seemed to do everything in the past three seasons to show him that he was no longer wanted. First, in 2009 they drafted former Ohio State running back Beanie Wells to take the bulk of carries that year. Then, as if that wasn't enough, this past spring they drafted Virginia Tech tailback Ryan Williams (who later suffered a season ending injury), which was yet another hint to Hightower as to where he stood with the team.
Usually in the NFL, if a team is trying that desperately to replace someone, it’s a pretty big indictment on said player’s ability to become a regular contributor. That doesn’t sound like the type of player that the Redskins usually have success molding into a solid player. After all, it’s not like they’ve had much luck turning other teams’ castaways into valued contributors.
But after being traded to the Redskins, Hightower was given a second chance in an offensive system more to his liking. He still seems to be learning the scheme, but given what he’s produced so far through three preseason games, he looks to be a quick study.
"My first day [with the Redskins] I kind of felt like a rookie all over again, with everything flying so fast," he recalled after Thursday night’s game.
He’s made his presence felt immediately, rushing for 170 yards and two scores through three preseason games. While those stats are meaningless this time of year, it’s the way he’s been getting those yards that have been most impressive. He’s been able to use his decisiveness and one-cut ability to show he has a great chance of becoming the next back to flourish in Mike Shanahan’s zone running scheme.
"I felt [like it was a good fit] when I first got here," he said.
Hightower had his third consecutive strong game Thursday night, rushing for 56 yards on nine carries, including his 37 yard score in which he cut back to his left and angled around the corner to cross the plane of the goal line.
"It was a well executed play," he said afterward about his score. "I told the guys ‘keep working hard for me, receivers keep blocking downfield’ and I’m not going to keep missing them, and I did just that."
It’s hard to fathom that the Redskins have finally found themselves a back that can break the big run after only giving up a late round draft pick and 36-year-old defensive lineman Vonnie Holliday. The fact that Hightower was able to be had for that price shows what his former team thought of him, something that has to motivate him here in Washington, his home area.
But rather than speaking ill of his former team, he’d rather focus on his new opportunity, where for the first time in several years, he’s wanted.
"I felt like I was here for a reason," he said of his trade to the Redskins. "I feel like the guys here in this locker room are a special team, and a special coaching staff ... It’s a great situation and it’s a great team."