Published August 16, 2012
ASHBURN, Va. – Evan Royster is riding a two-game 100-yard streak. He put up 113 in the Washington Redskins' season finale a year ago. He ran for an impressive 132 the week before that.
Yet, there was a night a couple of weeks ago when he was very much a rookie. During the annual rookie show at training camp — when the new guys are required to do a song, dance, skit or some other sort of antics in front of the team — Royster had to stand up and perform.
Why? Well, it seems he got skipped last year, when he really was a rookie. No one is sure how it happened. But someone remembered and told the coaches.
"Somebody," Royster said, "must've ratted me out."
So Royster brought in his lacrosse stick and did a couple of tricks, a reminder that he was once a prolific goal-scorer in another sport back in high school, good enough to be recruited by likes of lacrosse powers Johns Hopkins and Virginia.
His Redskins teammates were much tougher to win over.
"He needs to do another one," receiver Anthony Armstrong said. "It wasn't that impressive."
That's pretty much where Royster stands as an NFL running back. He's had a couple of good moments, but he needs to do more before anyone is ready to anoint him as the Redskins' featured ball-carrier. As of now, he holds the position by default: Tim Hightower and Roy Helu Jr. are both nursing injuries, so Royster and prospects Alfred Morris and Tristan Davis will get the carries Saturday night when Washington (No. 25 in the AP Pro32) visits the Chicago Bears in its second preseason game.
Hightower is still recovering from last year's torn ACL in his left knee and is gradually increasing his workload in practice. Second-year back Helu, whose 640 yards led the Redskins in 2011, has tendinitis in his left Achilles tendon. There's a chance either or both could play next week against the Indianapolis Colts.
The injuries have thrown a wrench into coach Mike Shanahan's search for a starter.
"It sure complicates it," Shanahan said. "We're hoping that Tim will look much better next week, and hopefully he's able to go a little bit against Indy, possibly — probably, more realistically — against Tampa (the following week). We're hoping Helu is back for the Indy game full-speed, ready to go."
Royster is Penn State's career rushing leader, but he was a sixth-round draft pick in 2011 and didn't make the Redskins' 53-man roster out of training camp. He was instead assigned to the practice squad, which essentially meant he was one of the fellas during the week — and a loner at home on game day.
"I'd try and watch the game," he said. "Sometimes it would be too hard. I want to be out there. I'd usually sit and watch the game by myself. I don't really like to watch games with people because then I'd get frustrated."
A few weeks after Hightower blow out his knee in midseason, the Redskins promoted Royster to the main roster. Helu also got banged up, which moved Royster to the top of the depth chart for the final two weeks. Granted, those were garbage time games for a team wrapping up a 5-11 season, but the 100-yard performances put him in the mix to have a greater role this year.
"I still have no idea what it's going to be," he said. "I definitely feel a little more comfortable this year with being able to have an opportunity to make the team. I hope I'm on this team."
Royster said balance and core strength were his focuses during the offseason, and he's also getting better at pass protection. He also wants to carry high the banner of Penn State, not only because of the school's recent troubles, but also to buck the trend of top Nittany Lions backs who have underperformed in the pros.
"There's been so much talk about highly ranked Penn State running backs that have come out but they never really did anything," Royster said. "And I kind of want to change that. People have such a bad perception of Penn State running backs.
"I just want to show that I could be successful at this level. Being Penn State's all-time leading rusher means nothing at this level. You've got to come and prove it in the NFL."
Notes: The Redskins signed DL Marlon Favorite, a former LSU player who has been with nine NFL teams in some form or fashion since 2009 but has yet to make a regular season roster. ... NT Chris Neild (torn left ACL) and WR Darius Hanks (shoulder surgery) both cleared waivers and are now on injured reserve. ... LB Markus White has a fractured rib and a bruised kidney after getting hit in Wednesday's practice. Shanahan said there's a chance White could return for next week's game. ... Shanahan said he thinks LT Trent Williams (bone bruise, left foot) and G Maurice Hurt (inflamed left knee) will play Saturday. The coach is less certain about G Chris Chester (sprained left ankle). ... LB London Fletcher took another day off from team drills Thursday — his second this week — but Shanahan said the veteran is OK. "He just wasn't feeling too good today," the coach said. ... Shanahan said the starters will play roughly the first half against the Bears.
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