The first time I talked to former Nebraska and current Washington Redskins running back Roy Helu, we were on the same plane back from the 2011 scouting combine. Meeting and talking to this very humble player got me watching his game tape, and I was impressed with his raw speed and ability to make plays in the passing game.
We did a podcast together in March, and I took note when the Redskins took him in the fourth round of the draft this year. Not knowing what Mike Shanahan's running back rotation would look like, I wondered what kind of reps Helu would get.
He had to wait his turn, but after the season-ending injury to starter Tim Hightower and other roster churnage at the position, Helu finally got his first real shot against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 12.
How did he do? Ask Seahawks cornerback Roy Lewis, who got posterized when Helu jumped right over him on the way to his first NFL rushing touchdown in the fourth quarter of the Redskins' 23-17 win.
"Before the play went on, I looked for the third-down marker, and I just really wanted our team to progress," Helu said after the game. " I knew that we were down to a two-possession game. Once I got the pitch, the first thing was I [went to] the edge and then I thought I could get around. Then, I just wanted to make sure I got it; and I didn't care if the safety came over and killed me in the air, I just wanted to get that first down through forward progress."
Mike Shanahan said on Monday that Helu has earned the right to be named the starter going forward after racking up 108 rushing yards against one of the NFL's best run defenses. Helu also caught seven passes for 54 yards in a very impressive performance that held Washington's offense together.
"I did my best, and all our coaches want us to do is to throw our hearts out there on the field," Helu said. "We pride ourselves as running backs as doing that. When it gets rejected with a loss, it hurts. It's fun to celebrate this victory; it's been a while. So many heartbreaks on the field in consecutive weeks, coming up in the loss column, even though you can look yourself in the mirror at the end of the day, that's what I've been learning."
It's been a big progression from training camp to his current role; one that isn't too far away for Helu to remember. "I'm improved, but I'm not where I want to be," he said.
Based on this last game, and one very big jump, he's a lot closer today.