Alfred Morris was a find for just about everyone this year: drafted in the sixth round (and probably not even taken in your Fantasy draft), Morris shattered expectations for the Redskins and their fans.
But the humble running back out of Florida Atlantic isn't worried about individual accolades, although his big performance in 2012 (1,613 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns) coupled with his low contract ($390,000) got him into the finals of the Vizio Top Value Performer awards (fans can vote for their choice at Vizio.com/TVP).
"It seems like a great award, even if it's not NFL-backed yet -- but it should be and it will be eventually," Morris said. "It's the sixth year of doing this, and the guys who won it, those are the guys whose performance exceed the value of their contract. And I think it's a perfect matchup for me just because coming in, where I was drafted and doing what I was able to do. I'm happy and I'm honored to be one of the Top Value Performers."
Morris's value to the Redskins can't be understated, but maybe it shouldn't be that surprising. Mike Shanahan's calling card for years has been turning guys no one's ever heard of into stud running backs in his zone running schemes. Morris might just be considered by some to be the next in a long line of Olandis Garys, but he sees Shanahan's scheme as a perfect fit for what he does.
"It was a great fit, it was a perfect fit, actually. I think coach does a great job finding talented guys and guys who fit into his system," Morris said. "Not any running back can come into this offense and have it work for them, you know? He just does a great job of finding the guys to fit his offense and it works out perfectly. I've been a one-cut type of back my whole life and that's what it's all about -- just being patient, kind of pressing the outside zone and everything and setting up your blocks, and once you set up your blocks you get north and south and the lanes are there, you just have to set them up. So I felt like this was the perfect type of offense for me as a player, and it showed this year.
"Kudos to Coach for seeing something in me that others didn't and for picking me up on draft day. It's been a fun ride and hopefully the beginning of a long relationship."
Part of what made Morris so dangerous this year was the Redskins' incorporation of the read-option using Robert Griffin III. While, ahem, some people might think they run that as a base offense, Morris confirmed the obvious: It's just a part of what they do, which is, as he described it, "zon[ing] it all day."
"It's definitely just part of [the offense]. Our bread and butter is the outside zone. Zone-zone-zone. Zone it all day," Morris said, chuckling. "They come and try to stop it, but they can't stop it so keep zoning it. It's just a philosophy. And the read option was just added this year and it was something they had to learn, the coaches too, and it's just an add-on and not the bulk of our offense. Our foundation is the zone."
That read option was less effective against the Seahawks in the Redskins' playoff loss, but that's not a shock to anyone who saw the way Griffin was running; the fleet-footed quarterback looked like a hobbled deer at one point, limping his way to the sideline on a 9-yard scamper.
Griffin's injury has come under heavy scrutiny this week, mainly because Shanahan didn't pull him for fellow rookie Kirk Cousins, who proved capable at times during the regular season. Morris doesn't think Shanahan made the wrong call, though.
"I felt like he was fine to play, to be honest with you," Morris said. "I just knew that with him limping like that, we wouldn't be able to run our option stuff. Because he wasn't going to be able to pull it and run it ... A lot of people say he should've come out of the game and stuff, but that works both ways. They criticized Jay Cutler for coming out of the game when his knee was bothering him. It's a lose-lose, in a sense. If a player wants to play, let him play if it's not going to hinder the team. If he feels like he's healthy enough to stay in and not hurt the team, then stay in.
"You have to put team before yourself. And I think Robert was perfectly fine to stay in and play the game."
Griffin's injury wasn't the only thing coming under fire after this game: Many folks wondered what the groundskeeping crew at FedEx Field had been doing (or not doing) in order for the surface to become so shoddy. Morris doesn't believe the field's conditions are any excuse for the quality of football being played and says he's actually seen FedEx in worse shape this year.
"I think it was fine. I don't want to make excuses like that," Morris said. "Not to cover anybody's behind, but when they make excuses like that I just feel like regardless of what the conditions are -- whether it's rain, sleet, snow, whether the field is turf or if it's nice grass or just terrible -- you've got to go out and play and knowing this type of stuff you have to be able to adjust on the fly for that and compensate so you can protect yourself. I've played on worse fields than that and FedEx Field has been in worse conditions than that. I think preseason it was pretty bad.
"I think people are just trying to find excuses about what happened that day, but I think it was fine. I don't think it was that big of a deal."
The outcome of that day -- a surgically repaired ACL and LCL for Griffin after slipping on the bad turf -- has people (yours truly included) questioning Shanahan's decision-making against Seattle. But at this point, to the Skins and their fans, it's essentially irrelevant. The injury happened, it can't be reversed, and the only thing to focus on is getting Griffin back for the start of 2013.
That's something Morris expects to happen, not because he's a doctor (or even stayed at a Holiday Inn Express last night), but because he believes Griffin's mindset and work ethic will overcome any diminished physical capacity.
"I have no worries, it's a pretty serious surgery, but at the same time I know the type of guy Robert is, his passion, his love for the game, his work ethic," Morris, who plans on stopping by to see Griffin in Pensacola soon, said. "A lot of people don't think he'll be ready for next season, but I have complete faith that he will be ready for next season because of the type of guy he is and the way he works. He's going to get back on that field and nothing is going to stop him. It's just his mindset, and I'm just glad he's my quarterback and he's our leader."
Griffin's injury obscured almost everything about the wild-card game (including the Seahawks victory), but that's nothing new for Morris. He's been playing second and third fiddle to a group of talented rookies all season. He's got little chance of winning any Rookie of the Year hardware in 2012, but that's not something that bothers the humble running back in the slightest.
"Just being on the ballot with so many other players the way they performed this year is enough for me," Morris said. "If I win, I win; if I don't, I don't. I'm just glad I was able to come out this year and represent for the underdogs at such a high level and be able to help my team. And just bringing life back to the city is just a fun ride, and I'm happy to be a part of it."
Plus, on the bright side, he's drawing plenty of fame thanks to his unique name. At least one Redskins fan showed up to last Sunday's game sporting a Morris jersey on top of an Alf costume.
And Morris, like the rest of us, wondered where the hell someone goes about obtaining a costume for a long-dead 80s sitcom.
"One of my friends sent [that picture] to me and I was rolling -- I thought it was the funniest thing ever," Morris said. "I wondered how long it took him to get that outfit. I'm pretty sure he had to special order that or something. That was hilarious -- he had my jersey on, so I definitely got a kick out of that."