|Ryan Torrain will be out at least a week after getting four screws in his broken left hand. (Getty Images)|
But to the Redskins, it's more important that he find his way through holes in the line -- especially with a recent injury to Ryan Torain, last year's leading rusher.
Torain will miss 7-10 days after fracturing his left hand while being tackled Wednesday. He needed four screws in his third metacarpal, and although Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said Torain came to his office earlier in the day, Torain wasn't on the field for either of the team's practices Thursday.
Hightower, who was acquired by the Redskins in a trade from the Arizona Cardinals for Vonnie Holliday and a draft pick, practiced Thursday for the first time during training camp.
Because the collective-bargaining agreement hadn't yet been ratified, newly signed free agents couldn't practice previously. So Hightower and 15 of his teammates, including quarterback Rex Grossman, began the Redskins' 4 p.m. practice loosening up by themselves on a separate field before standing near their position groups.
Shortly before 5 p.m., they joined the rest of the team, which was participating in an 11-on-11 drill.
"I felt like a reject, like I was one of the replacements or something," Hightower said of the strange start to the afternoon session. "It was a crazy feeling."
Hightower wasted no time releasing that bottled-up energy, making an explosive cut through the left side on his first carry. For the Redskins to stay on track during Torain's absence, Hightower likely will have to take an expanded role. The team will open its preseason schedule Aug. 12 against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
"Anybody who knows me, I hate coming off the football field," Hightower said. "I don't care whether it's third down, first down, short yardage, blocking catching -- I hate coming off the football field. If I've got to carry it 30 times a game, I want to help my team win."
Hightower said the lockout prevented him from fully taking advantage of his physical skills.
"You can be in the best shape of your life, but the only way to get better at football is to play football," said Hightower, who's run for 1,733 yards and 23 touchdowns and has caught 118 passes for 801 yards in three seasons.
Torain, whom Shanahan drafted with the Broncos in 2008, broke his left elbow in his first training camp and tore the ACL in his left knee during his rookie season. After another knee injury during training camp the next year, Denver cut him, and Torain admitted he had been labeled as injury prone.
"Ryan has the ability to be a top back and we'll find out in time if he can do that and stay healthy," Shanahan said early last season.
After setting career-high rushing totals in back-to-back weeks -- 100 yards against the Colts on Oct. 17 and 125 yards against the Bears on Oct. 24 -- Torain injured his hamstring against the Lions in Week 8 and missed the next four games.
Even before Torain's latest injury, Hightower said the trade happened for a reason.
"I couldn't have asked for any better opportunity in any better place," said the 25-year-old Hightower, who attended high school in Alexandria, Va., and college at Richmond.
Even without Torain in the mix, Hightower will have competition for carries. Washington drafted Nebraska running back Roy Helu in the fourth round and Penn State running back Evan Royster in the sixth round.
The Redskins' other veteran running backs are Keiland Williams -- who ran for 261 yards on 65 carries and caught 39 passes for 309 yards as a Washington rookie last season -- and James Davis, who ran 19 times for 60 yards with the Redskins and Cleveland Browns last year. Undrafted rookies Shaun Draughn (North Carolina) and Kevin Gidrey (South Florida) also are on the roster.
Hightower sees talent in his position-mates, but until the Redskins practice in full pads, he said he couldn't make a complete evaluation.
"They work hard, and they seem like they get along really well. So, I'm excited to work with them," he said.