Seven games into his NFL career, 23-year-old Redskins running back Alfred Morris has already earned an entourage, become famous for his Bentley and established Pro Bowl credentials. But nothing is as it seems with the sixth-round pick out of Florida Atlantic.
The entourage? During OTAs last spring Morris befriended a Little League all-star team that was staying at his hotel. On his days off he swam and ate cupcakes with the kids, and he attended one of their games. His NFL touchdown celebration, a pantomimed home run swing, was inspired by the pint-sized posse. As for the Bentley, that's an affectionate nickname for the 1991 Mazda 626 sedan he nestles between teammates' Escalades and Land Rovers outside of Redskins Park. The silver beater has nearly 125,000 miles, countless dents and no radio. Morris, a native of Pensacola, Fla., might get another set of wheels soon. But only for the winter. "I've never driven in snow," he says. "If I wreck, I'll total it. I don't want that to happen."
But the Pro Bowl credentials, those are legit. Morris is second in the NFL with 658 rushing yards, trailing only Arian Foster. "I refuse to go down," says the 5'10", 218-pound bruiser, who's caused more missed and broken tackles (21) than any running back save for Marshawn Lynch (27) and Adrian Peterson (23).
Among Morris's 120 rushing yards in a 27--23 loss to the Giants on Sunday, the most telltale came on back-to-back plays that set up Washington's first score: five yards up the gut with tackle Marcus Kuhn hanging on his back, then a nine-yarder in which linebackers Mathias Kiwanuka and Michael Boley hopped on for the final four. "When I get wrapped up, I keep churning," he says. "That's how I've always been wired."
That wiring was appealing to coach Mike Shanahan, who has a history of selecting obscure backs who flourish in his zone-blocking scheme (see Mike Anderson, Olandis Gary, Terrell Davis). But even Morris is pinching himself. This is a guy who in 2011 played on a 1--11 Sun Belt Conference team, who ran a sluggish 4.67 40 at the combine, and who needed injuries to Tim Hightower, Evan Royster and Roy Helu Jr. to become a Week 1 starter.
When his number isn't called, Morris's well-sold ball fakes in Shanahan's play-action, option offense are key in luring linebackers. This allows more time for the Redskins' other wonder-rookie, Robert Griffin III, to throw (his 70.4% completion rate leads the NFL) and more room for RG3 to run (7.3 yards per rush).
But Morris is no mere sideshow. He trails Griffin's six rushing touchdowns by just one. And after Sunday's game, Giants defensive tackle Linval Joseph paid Morris the ultimate compliment. "When most speedsters come in the middle, they creep. He actually hits," Joseph said. "He's a very powerful back."
And like his Bentley, he has a motor that just won't quit.
CARLOS M. SAAVEDRA (MORRIS)
CHURN, BABY, CHURN NFC defenders like Justin Tuck (91) and Marvin Austin are learning fast that tackling Morris requires a team effort.