ASHBURN, Va. -- While the Washington Redskins quarterback race has kept everyone on tenterhooks, the running back competition has become a one-man show.
Tim Hightower has separated himself from the pack and is all but certain to be the starter in the Sept. 11 season opener against the New York Giants, even if coach Mike Shanahan isn't quite ready to announce it.
"He's done a good job," Shanahan said Saturday. "I'm not going to say he's our starter, but if you were betting in Vegas, you'd probably bet in that direction."
Hightower, acquired in an offseason trade with the Arizona Cardinals, has turned apprehension into accomplishment in the month since the unexpected change of scenery. He's averaging 6.8 yards per carry over three preseason games, and his 37-yard touchdown run Thursday night at Baltimore showed again why he's an ideal back for Shanahan's zone blocking scheme. On a stretch run to the right, Hightower patiently waited for the blocks to develop before darting forward and eventually cutting back to the left and heading for the pylon.
"I felt like I belonged since my first day here," Hightower said. "This team has a good offensive line, and we've made a commitment to running the ball. In some ways, I feel like it was meant to be."
It's a fry cry from the uncertainty Hightower felt when he learned of the trade July 31, even though it meant he was returning to familiar territory, not far from his high school in Alexandria, Va. The 2008 fifth-round draft pick believed his future was with the Cardinals, for whom he averaged 4.8 per carry last season, albeit for 736 total yards.
"Arizona was my home for three years," Hightower said. "I came into the league, I fought hard to solidify myself in that position and gain the respect of my teammates and the coaches and the fans and the community.
"And it's right to that point when you feel comfortable, right when you felt like, 'OK, I've made a name for myself,' you get snatched out and you get thrown into a whole new environment. But you know what? If things work out, I'm in the right place at the right time."
When the trade was made, Hightower was seen as a likely third-down back, a complement to returning starter Ryan Torain. But Torain's durability issues surfaced again when he broke his left hand early in training camp. He has yet to play in the preseason, although he was on the field for practice Saturday and is expected to participate in Thursday night's finale against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Yet, for all the progress he has made over such a short period of time, Hightower realizes it doesn't mean anything yet.
"It's still preseason," he said. "I've got to make it count when those wins and losses start going in that right column."
Notes: The Redskins are still dealing with the blow of losing second-round pick Jarvis Jenkins, who tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee against the Ravens. Jenkins was on pace for considerable playing time in the defensive line rotation. "You cannot replace a player like that, so guys have to step up," Shanahan said. "It's always hard to lose one of those big guys because you can't find them on the street." ... Jenkins had started the last two preseason games because DE Adam Carriker was dealing with severe foot blisters. Carriker practiced Saturday and said he's "good to go" for Thursday's game. ... Shanahan said he expects backup safety Kareem Moore (knee) to open the season on the physically unable to perform list, which would keep him sidelined for at least the first six games. ... Safety LaRon Landry (hamstring), TE Chris Cooley (knee), LB Edgar Jones (concussion), WR Brandon Banks (knee), WR Malcolm Kelly (foot) and guard Maurice Hurt (hurt) also didn't practice, although Shanahan he expects Jones and Banks to practice Sunday. ... The Redskins held practice at 11 a.m. -- three hours earlier than scheduled -- because of approaching Hurricane Irene, ending just as the rain started to fall. The team removed uprights from the goal posts as a precaution against the wind and also canceled Sunday's practice.
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press