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Hightower Charges Ahead At Running Back

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Since joining the Redskins on July 31, running back Tim Hightower has received the bulk of first-team reps in training camp.

Ryan Torain is sidelined due to a fractured hand, allowing Hightower to emerge as the early favorite to be the Redskins' starting running back this season.

Asked about his spot as the No. 1 back on the Redskins' depth chart, Hightower took the diplomatic route.

"I hate to look at it with guys out, and count numbers and stuff," Hightower said. "Regardless, I came here to play and to help my team win. We're obviously going to be a better team with Ryan back, so right now I'm just focusing on doing my job."

Hightower isn't discounting the Redskins' rookie running backs, either.

Fourth-round draft pick Roy Helu, sixth-rounder Evan Royster and undrafted rookie Shaun Draughn are also competing for playing time. Helu has taken some reps with the first team with Torain sidelined.

"They love to play football," Hightower said of the rookies. "It's crazy, because I can see myself in their position not too long ago. They're absorbing everything, but they are out here practicing every single day.

"None of them complain and they go to work every single day. That's a good sign. A lot of times, guys complain about this or that or whatever, and I have yet to hear one of them complain about anything."

Hightower entered the NFL as a 2008 fifth-round draft pick by the Arizona Cardinals. He played behind veteran back Edgerrin James early in his career. Last year, he set career highs with 736 yards and a 4.8 yards-per-carry average.

Hightower played college football at Richmond, where he accumulated 2,152 total yards of offense and 23 touchdowns in his final season.

Like the Redskins' rookies, Hightower is adjusting to a new offensive scheme and a new coaching staff.

"It's a running backs dream," Hightower said of Kyle Shanahan's offense. "For me at least, it's a lot of the same stuff I did in college with the zone [blocking]. It gives me a chance to really get into a rhythm."

Said Shanahan: "He's a tough runner. He's the type we like. He presses all of his runs. He gets to the line of scrimmage, puts his foot down and runs downhill. He's a leader, a professional. He blocks as well as anyone I've seen."

Fumbling has been a recurring problem for Hightower in training camp but head coach Mike Shanahan was not overly concerned.

"We hand the ball off a little bit differently and he runs quite hard," Shanahan said. "We'll just keep on practicing it, having people try to strip the ball. Hopefully that will eliminate the problem."

Hightower has developed a good rapport with second-year fullback Darrel Young. The two used to compete against each in college, when Young was a linebacker at Villanova.

"We laugh all the time, he's a Division 1AA guy like me," Hightower said. "I was playing him not too long ago. He used to hit me in college, so it's good to see him blocking for me. He's a hard-nosed player."

If Hightower does indeed become the starting running back, it will be the first time in his NFL career that he would take on the full load. He's relying on his coaches and teammates to help him be ready.

"Coach [Bobby] Turner has been my biggest help," Hightower said of his running backs coach. "I've been meeting with him every day. He's making me stay on top of myself."

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