Zorn welcomes an old friend to D.C.

By Joe Versage  |   Friday, October 17, 2008  |  Comments( 2 )

Washington Redskins
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Each year, the NFL’s trade deadline comes and goes and so do most of the rumors that are associated with it. Anticipation builds and fans get their hopes up. But more times than not, they end up disappointed.

Tuesday’s deadline was similar in an uneventful sort of way. Rumors were flying in places like Buffalo, Kansas City, Oakland, Philadelphia and New York, but only a couple of players changed uniforms. And while some organizations made offers that couldn’t be refused, others added or dropped players they could or couldn’t use.

Washington was one team that made some noise, but surprisingly, it didn’t come in the form of a trade. Instead, the Redskins signed a player off the street by the name of Shaun Alexander.

Yes, it's the same Alexander who earned NFL MVP honors after rushing for a then-record 27 touchdowns three years ago. He also led Seattle to a Super Bowl XL appearance after that season. But it’s also the same Alexander who was plagued by injuries, cut by the Seahawks in April and supposedly cursed by John Madden’s video game jinx.

At first glance, it looks like the type of move that is typical of an organization that prides itself on making headlines. In this case, the Redskins shared them with bitter rival Dallas. The Cowboys gave up a first- third- and sixth-round pick in the 2009 draft to acquire wide receiver Roy Williams from Detroit. Because of off-field issues, they also announced the suspension of Adam Jones by league commissioner Roger Goodell.

But the Redskins' one-year agreement with Alexander may prove to be a flier that was worth the risk. Like the trade that brought former Miami defensive end Jason Taylor to Washington in July, the move was made to fill a void. Running back Ladell Betts’ knee injury is not a season-ending one, but losing the primary backup to Clinton Portis was something the Redskins had to address.

While it’s true that the team had other choices, they were not as dynamic as a healthy Alexander could be. Rock Cartwright is solid as Washington's third-string running back and special teams leader. He may even see more action while Alexander becomes acquainted with his new teammates. But he’s no Alexander.

Meanwhile, the Redskins contacted the agent of Baltimore Ravens practice squad member Marcus Mason to discuss the possibility of adding him to their active roster prior to signing Alexander. Mason played for Washington in the preseason and led the NFL in exhibition rushing yards. But he’s no Alexander.

Although he was without a team for nearly six months, Alexander believed that he still had the ability to be an elite runner in the NFL. He also made it a priority to stay in football shape. During his hiatus, he trained with former Olympic spring coach Joe Gentry at the University of Washington’s indoor football and track facility.

Alexander is also fully recovered from the cracked foot, knee and broken wrist injuries that hampered him in 2006 and '07.

"I'm healthy," he assured reporters on Wednesday. "I finally got to heal all the way up, and train and work out and get in shape with no bumps and bruises."

Alexander then added that he's fine with playing second fiddle to Portis, whom Alexander admires.

"I've had nothing but respect for Clinton. I think that he's an amazing player and he's given me the same love. I think any time you get two guys who just play hard, and like to win, it always works out."

For Alexander, any role in Washington will be a comfortable one; after all, he’s familiar with the man who calls the shots. Redskins head coach Jim Zorn served as quarterbacks coach in Seattle for seven years and assisted in the development of an offense that made Matt Hasselbeck a Pro Bowler and Alexander a superstar. Washington's current running backs coach will also be reunited with the 31-year-old. For eight years, Stump Mitchell mentored Alexander as the Seahawks' running backs coach. When the Redskins hired Zorn, Mitchell followed him to Washington.

Two of Alexander's college pals were also on hand to greet him. Left tackle Chris Samuels and defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin were senior co-captains with Alexander in 1999, when the three played for the University of Alabama. That Crimson Tide team was the last one to win a Southeastern Conference title.

"A lot of people have labeled his NFL career as washed up, but he's definitely not washed up," Samuels told the Washington Post. "I've talked to him and he's working out hard. He's excited and he's hungry."

Alexander has a different running style than Portis, who currently leads the NFL in rushing. While Portis is a downhill runner who hits an opening fast, Alexander is a more plodding and patient back who waits for holes to develop. His career totals include 9,429 yards rushing, 100 touchdowns and 4.3 yards per attempt, but he averaged only 3.5 yards per carry over the last two years. During his 2005 MVP season, Alexander compiled 1,880 yards on 370 carries. He also tacked on a receiving touchdown to finish with a total of 28.

Other teams that reportedly showed interest in Alexander included Cincinnati, Detroit and New Orleans. But it was Washington that pulled the trigger on a nine-year veteran who will act as an insurance policy to Portis while Betts heals.

While some media outlets have speculated that Alexander’s stay could be a short one, the Redskins may have other ideas. Like most NFL teams, Washington can never have enough soldiers in its backfield. And if Alexander proves to be anything like his former self, he will be another weapon for Zorn to utilize.
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About Joe Versage

As a native of upstate New York and a life-long fan of the Buffalo Bills, I have witnessed some of the greatest highs and greatest lows an NFL team can endure. But despite a gut-wrenching 4 consecutive Super Bowl defeats, I never lost faith in the Bills and was fortunate to cover them for 3 years...
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