The Washington Redskins are considering moves for free-agent running backs Cedric Benson and Ryan Grant, according Dan Hanzus of NFL.com. It seems Mike Shanahan is anxious to add some experienced cover to an already crowded backfield rotation.
That's surprising news that raises serious questions about the runners currently on the Redskins roster. 2011 rookies Roy Helu and Evan Royster impressed towards the end of the last season, but those efforts have not been enough to thrust either player to the head of the depth chart.
Former Arizona Cardinal Tim Hightower seemed to have the edge following a competent start to life in Washington. The 26-year-old amassed 321 rushing yards in five starts in 2011 before tearing his ACL and finishing the campaign on injured reserve.
The fact that Shanahan is contemplating new alternatives could suggest the Redskins are not confident of a full recovery from Hightower. In fairness to Shanahan, it may be a smart move to search the free-agent market for a bargain or two.
Aside from fitness concerns surrounding Hightower, Helu has had his own durability issues dating back to his time at Nebraska. What does seem clear is that no runner has yet distinguished themselves sufficiently to earn the full confidence of the coaching staff.
Yet the question has to be asked: How much better would Benson or Grant fare? Benson is an exceptional running back whose career has been blighted by off-field legal troubles. On the field, he is a durable workhorse, capable of pounding a defense and controlling the clock.
However, the 5'11", 227-pounder may be too much of a bruiser to execute the quick, one-cut style Shanahan covets for his zone-based scheme. That could give Grant the edge, as the Green Bay Packers veteran has displayed a knack for the big play during his career.
Grant possesses the initial burst that no other Redskin back, other than Helu, is able to offer. His decisiveness could make him a nice fit in this system, although at 29, it remains to be seen how much he has left, having been no stranger to injury problems himself.
Grant would offer a superior receiving threat, and that could tempt the Redskins to take a chance in order to give rookie Robert Griffin III a more well-rounded backfield weapon. However, Benson's three straight 1,000-yard seasons would give the offense a legitimate feature back, and that could be hard to ignore.
The only certainty is that the current runners face strong competition for roster spots, and that will either make or break this crucial position group heading into a pivotal season for Shanahan.