ASHBURN, Va. — A year away from football has brought Roy Helu a new appreciation for the game, even during brutal midweek practices.
That dedication has won him the respect of his Washington Redskins teammates, who were quick to praise Helu after his three-touchdown performance Sunday.
Helu, the former Husker, relieved starter Alfred Morris at the end of Washington's long no-huddle drives, which were also the most successful drives of the day in a 45-41 win over the Chicago Bears.
“I'm so happy that he got those touchdowns,” Morris said. “He deserves them. Roy really works. When he gets in there, he goes all out.”
Helu was the team's star back in 2011, but was sidelined in 2012 with toe and foot injuries, opening the door for Morris to take the starting spot.
Any talk of a budding controversy was quickly nipped Sunday by all parties. Helu said after being away from football, he's happy just to be a part of a team again. Fullback Darrel Young said that attitude shows on a daily basis at Redskins Park.
“It's been pretty sweet to see that two years ago, he was the star running back, and now he has a different role, but he can still accept that and be at the top of his game,” Young said. “I respect that so much. I love Roy. I love him to death. I'd block for him any day of the week.”
Helu was put into the game at opportune times Sunday.
When the Redskins went to their no-huddle look, Morris took the bulk of the handoffs. But after several plays, coach Mike Shanahan opted to go for the fresh legs of Helu against a winded defense.
“We're tired and they're tired, and what happens sometimes is you're going to give your running back a break because he's carrying the ball quite a bit in those scenarios,” Shanahan said. “The defense is getting tired, and you've got a fresh running back.”
Helu said before the game the coaches go over his anticipated responsibilities, but it can be subject to change based on how the game plays out.
He's been the third-down back in most games this season, because of his proficiency in pass blocking.
Even with four touchdowns this season, though, he said he's not pushing for a bigger role.
Asked how he's different from Morris, he joked that he has “a lighter complexion.”
Quarterback Robert Griffin III said both players were essential to the team's production Sunday.
“Alfred is the battering ram, who can also take the top off of it and go for the long runs, like he did the week before,” Griffin said.
“Helu is more of the speed guy, but he's got a little Alfred in him as well. So we've got two great backs in there that can run the ball as long as we give them the lanes.”
Griffin's running contributed to the success of the ground game.
He finished with 84 yards. Morris logged 95 and Helu picked up 41.
Helu said just as important was that he didn't feel any lingering effects from surgery on his left foot.
He said the surgery and time away from football left him more appreciative of the game.
“Just the opportunity to play,” he said. “There are going to be some days during the year where you may not feel the best going out to practice, but there's always just the truth that looking back on last year, I didn't have the opportunity to practice, so I'm trying to take advantage of those little things I couldn't do.”
A three-touchdown game is no little thing, but it was appreciated by Helu and his teammates Sunday.