Do not get too comfortable with Shaun Alexander

Hat tip AOL Fanhouse, I guess I didn't read as closely as I should have the Official Site's announcement that Shaun Alexander is in the house:

Alexander could see snaps in place of Ladell Betts, who suffered a knee injury last week. Rock Cartwright is also on the roster, but he contributes primarily on special teams.

“Shaun is the kind of guy who is smart enough to understand the situation," Zorn said. "Clinton understands the situation. We said it could be temporary or it could run the full season. We are not going to put some sort of limitation on where we are at in four weeks, two weeks, however long it takes Ladell to get back.”

Sportz Assassin says:

It seems as if the "situation" is in the realm of temporary. Unless Alexander shows some of his old form and becomes a productive part of the offense, he will take his veteran minimum salary and go home when Betts is healthy.

Curly R says:

Here is another thought, courtesy of Jason La Canfora. With all the tailbacks hurt or unproductive lately, Jospeh Addai, Felix Jones, Brian Westbrook and still no signy signy, and the Bengals, Saints and Lions all taking a pass after trying Shaun out, what are the other 31 teams in the league seeing that the Redskins are missing?

Anthony Brown at Hog Heaven:

There is abundant evidence that Alexander is done as a NFL running back, even as the second back on a team. Things have to be really bad if he sees much playing time.

Yikes. First off, Ladell Betts produced well enough in 2006 to earn himself a contract extension. I never viewed this as a move to replace Betts at all, and suggestions from Coach, who has every reason in the world to remain tight lipped on this, that the move could be temporary, really screams at me that this is temporary. Between the lines I read: but for an injury to Betts, Alexander wouldn't be here, therefore when he returns... You get the picture.

I join my fellow bloggers in skepticism of Alexander, as he's now years removed from looking anything like a reliable starting running back. Point of parliamentary procedure, he might be years removed from looking like a serviceable backup RB. As far as running the ball, though, I imagine he's not being asked to do very much. If Betts was running the ball around 6 times a game, I imagine the team will apply substantial pressure on Portis to carry a larger load with Betts gone. So we're talking something like <6 carries a game for Alexander. However serviceable Alexander doesn't look, we're not asking much of him, at least in the running game.

What worries me far more is what's to be done with Shaun Alexander on passing downs? I have questions about his hands out of the backfield and his ability to pick up the blitz. First, from an interview with Doug Farrar:

I would liken [the West Coast offense Zorn learned] to the Elway-Davis Broncos of the late 1990s, very balanced, with a little more passing to the backs thrown in (he likes to do it more than he has because Alexander was a better runner than he was a receiver when he was elite).

Not really a big criticism of his receiving skills, just a weighing of his talents. Still, let's look at some of Alexander's receiving numbers compliments Football Outsiders:

2007: 56% catch rate (ie, he caught 56% of the passes thrown at him) and just about the worst (5th to last) receiving RB with over 25 passes. There's maybe three players who caught fewer than 60% of their passes, obviously because RBs typically are thrown short, at the line of scrimmage passes. Portis, by comparison, caught 81%. Betts 66%.

2006: Although his success rate (DVOA) was still remarkably bad, he caught 81% of his passes. Sample size was substantially smaller, though.

2005: Huge year for Alexander but, again, not a good receiver. Just about at the bottom of the receiving RB rankings with a dismal 54% catch percentage. No RB with over 25 passes caught a lower %.

2004: Rating is better, which is to say he's not among the worst, merely among the mediocre, and he caught 61% of his passes. About the 5th or 6th worse among that statistical range (over 25 passes) in catch %.

You get the picture.

I can forgive that. What I can't forgive is a failure to block that lands Campbell on his rear and, thus, the football in the opposing team's hands potentially. I've heard rumblings that he can't block. Mind the sources, I have to since I don't watch Seahawks games, but here is a representative sampling of comments from a pair of sites.

hawkdawg:

I'm afraid we do know that the pass first offense won't work with Shaun, because 1) he can't or won't reliably block, and 2) he can't reliably catch, with or without the cast.

redeye81:

Alexander is the highest paid cheerleader in the league. We are a better team with him out. He is too one dimensional. He can't catch or block as well as MoMo or Weaver.

Or...

Oscar:

There isn't nearly enough Alexander bashing going on around here...
The bottom line is not what Alexander was, but what he is,...a washed up RB makeing way more than he is worth. Greeeeeedy, won't restructure for the good of the team, won't, or can't, run hard, can't catch, can't block.

Again, mind the sources, but they would probably know better than me, at least.

But everyone loves a redemption story, so forget I said anything. Should we wake up next week and Alexander has had a huge game (in reserve on his 4-5 carries, somehow) and doesn't drop an easy pass or miss a crucial blitz, we'll all be on that bandwagon. Until then... Temporary indeed.

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